Mind your language

Andrew Wake Newsletter, Parenting

Mind Your Language

The words we use are powerful, and can be helpful or unhelpful when thinking about the people you love and trying to create change. Is your child lazy, or are they struggling to initiate. Are they being fun, or are they being silly. Are they assertive, or are they opinionated. In the context of this newsletter, do you see your child as a problem, or as a challenge?

A problem is something you don’t want to have. It is a judgment of something that shouldn’t be there, a flaw to something that would otherwise be perfect. A problem is annoying, an irritant that we wish would vanish, and for which we would be better off if it never happened. The solution to a problem is for it to be solved, and there is often a felt shame if the problem cannot be solved.

A challenge is different. It is something you want to have. Addressing it strengthens, and you are better off for having to deal with it.   You don’t have to solve a challenge but you want to, and there is no shame in failing at the challenge. Unlike a problem in which we expect it shouldn’t be there, a challenge is something in which we say, “let’s see what we can do with this”, and we can more easily accept the outcome of a challenge, whether positive or negative.

When dealing with a tricky behaviour, the mindset of “challenge” tends to remove judgment and criticism that the mindset of “problem” so easily brings up.

Perhaps next time you need to address a difficulty in yourself or someone else, ask yourself, “Is this a problem to be solved, or a challenge to be addressed?” And see which mindset leads to a better outcome.


I have attached a link to a podcast I heard recently with Guy Ritchie (film director Snatch / Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) which explored this idea of “problem vs challenge” amongst other things such as the crutches we use, the freedom that comes with not needing reassurance, and our attitude being the only thing we can actually control. I was surprised by the content as normally the podcast (hosted by a stand-up comedian) is a bit of a laugh and rarely so deep.  They even mentioned Frankl’s classic book “Man’s Search for Meaning”.  If you have a spare hour it may be worth a listen.  Skip to the 5th minute and by the 10th minute you will get the sense of whether the podcast is for you or not.  The link to the podcast is here.