Solutionfocused thinking

Once there was a boy ... or it could have been a girl. In fact, we can make it about whomever we want because I am sure there is still something important in the story for you whether you think of it as about a boy or a girl.

Once there was a boy who lived at home with his mother. He and his mother were both poor and he did not have a father, though I don't remember that I ever knew why that was. All his life this boy had always done whatever his mother told him to do and never really learned to think for himself. At first, many parents might think it would be wonderful to have such an obedient child, but as we shall see, it may not always be helpful.

Just why this boy didn't think for himself I don't know, either. Perhaps we could make some guesses—like, his mother might have always done the thinking for him, or he might have felt scared to think for himself, or he might have worried about doing something wrong if he made his own choices, or it might have been easier to go along with what he was told, or perhaps he just couldn't be bothered to think for himself. There could be many reasons, but whatever they were, that was where he was at the time of our story.

Because the boy and his mother didn't have much money, his mother needed him to work to help pay for their food and rent. Each day after school and on the weekends, the boy would go looking for jobs in his community. One Monday he found work in the local hardware store stacking bags of cement. It was hard, but he was a reasonably strong boy for his age and when he had finished the shop owner gave him $10 for his efforts. As he was carrying it home in his hand it dropped out of his grip and blew away before he had the chance to catch it. When he got home and told his mother, she told him off. "You silly boy," she said, "you should have put it in your pocket."

"I promise I will do as you say next time, Mother," he answered.

On Tuesday he got a job in the village grocery shop. It was much easier work than stacking bags of cement, but the rewards were not the same, either. At the end of the day the shopkeeper gave him a nice box of chocolates for his efforts. Remembering his promise to his mother, he put the chocolates in his pocket and made the long walk home. When he pulled the box out to show his mother, all the chocolates had melted. Again his mother told him off. "You silly boy, you should have carried them in a plastic bag."

"I'm sorry, Mother," he apologized. "I'll remember to do what you say next time."

On Wednesday he got a job in a pet store. He enjoyed working with the animals and, seeing this, the pet store owner thanked him for his efforts by giving him a cat. Remembering what his mother had told him, the boy put the cat in a plastic bag and started to carry it home, but the cat quickly clawed its way out and ran away. When he told his mother the tale she told him off again. "You silly boy, you should have tied a string around its neck and led it along behind you."

Again the boy apologized, saying, "I'll remember to do what you tell me next time."

Well, on Thursday he got a job working for the butcher. At the end of his work, the butcher gave him a leg of beef. The boy thought his mother would be pleased with his efforts today and, doing what she'd told him, he tied a bit of string around his payment for the day and dragged it all the way home. As he did all the neighborhood dogs followed him, gnawing at the leg of fresh meat. By the time he got home there was nothing but a bare bone. His mother, who was running out of patience, told him off once again. "You silly boy, you should have carried it on your shoulder."

Once more he apologized and promised to do as she told him next time.

On Friday there were not any jobs in the town shops, so he wandered out into the country and helped a farmer working on a farm. At the end of the day, the man gave him an old donkey for his efforts. Remembering what his mother had said, he tried to lift the donkey onto his shoulders but found it was too big and heavy. When that did not work, he tried to remember her other directions. "Put it in your pocket," he recalled her saying one day, but the donkey was too large to fit. "Carry it in a plastic bag," she'd said on another day, but there was no way a donkey was going to fit in a bag any more than in his pocket. Even if it could've, he remembered that the cat had clawed its way out of the plastic bag and run away. He didn't want to disappoint his mother that way again.

Perhaps he could put it on a string and lead it home. Surely, the dogs would not eat a living donkey like they had the leg ofbeef But the donkey dug its heels into the ground, as stubborn as a mule, and refused to move. The boy did not know what to do. He had run out of instructions that his mother had given him. Nothing she had told him was going to work in the situation in which he now found himself.

What do you think he did? How do you think he might solve his problem? If you were in his place, what ways could you find to get the donkey home? And what do you think the boy might learn from this to help him in his next job?

This is an open-ended story designed to facilitate the child's own search for the means to reach a satisfactory conclusion. Therefore it has no specific conclusion itself. It can be used to help elicit children's solutions, develop their creativity, facilitate reality testing, join their responses, shape their problem-solving skills, and build the resources necessary to reach an appropriate outcome—in a enjoyable, interactive process.

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