Sickle cell disease and problem solving: Identify the problem

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The first step to problem solving is identifying the problem. This page offers tips to help you recognize when there is a problem and then identify the problem as clearly as possible.

Key points

  • The Bright IDEAS system for problem solving is made up of five steps: identify, define, evaluate, act and see. This page focuses on Step 1: Identify.
  • Some problems are harder to recognize than others. If you sense something is wrong, you can use your feelings, your behaviour and certain types of thoughts to help you recognize problems.
  • Collect as much information as possible to define a problem clearly. Ask yourself questions such as what happened (or did not happen) that bothers you; who is involved; where, when and why did it happen; and what was your response?

Remember, the word IDEAS represents each of the steps in the Bright IDEAS system for problem solving:

  • I = identify the problem
  • D = define your options
  • E = evaluate your options
  • A = act out your choice
  • S = see if it worked
Bright IDEAS wheel with optimism at the centre and the problem-solving steps in the outer sections of the wheel

Almost any problem, no matter how big it may appear at first, can be solved if it is broken into small parts or steps. Each step can then be solved, one at a time.

Some problems are easy to see, but others may be harder to recognize. If you have a sense that something is wrong, you can look for clues that a problem might exist.

Below are tips that you can use to help you recognize problems.

  • Use your feelings: Often, negative feelings (sadness, worry, frustration, anger) are signals that there is a problem.
  • Use your behaviour: Making the same mistakes over and over or not responding effectively could be a clue that there is a problem.
  • Use certain types of thoughts: Thoughts such as, “I should have done this” or “I must do that” are often indicators of a problem.

Problem checklist

Another tip to help you recognize a problem is to use a checklist.

Below is a list of common problems experienced by parents of teens with pain. Think about whether any of these are similar to your own problems or enter any other problem you experience in the box at the bottom.

  • I can’t get my child to go to school or other activities.
  • My child doesn’t leave the house anymore.
  • Treating my child’s sickle cell disease is becoming a financial burden.
  • I’m worried I’m going to lose my job.
  • I have no time for my other children or my spouse.
  • I worry now more than ever.
  • My life is falling apart.
  • I have trouble sleeping.
  • I have difficulty talking to my friends.
  • I can’t seem to communicate with the medical team.
  • I get nervous asking questions.
  • I get angry waiting so long for the doctors.
  • I’m worried my child will get worse.

Case study: Maya's approach to problem solving

Throughout this module, you are going to learn how another parent has used the IDEAS system to solve a problem in her life.

Meet Maya.

"My name is Maya and I have two children. My son, Michael, is 17 and my daughter, Eva, is 14. Eva has sickle cell that impacts her life and the lives of the rest of the family. The sickle cell causes stress on our family life. It’s really frustrating. Sometimes I think that sickle cell rules our lives and keeps Eva and us from living our lives to the fullest. I am, however, hopeful that things will get better. I know that the sickle cell will never disappear (although wouldn’t that be good!), but I hope we learn to manage life better in spite of it."

Identify the problem as clearly as possible

The next part of Step 1 in the Bright IDEAS system is to identify a problem clearly. To do this, you need to collect as much information as possible about it.

Gather information

To gather information, it can be helpful to ask yourself the following questions.

  1. What happened (or did not happen) that bothers you?
  2. Who is involved?
  3. Where did it happen?
  4. When did it happen?
  5. Why did it happen (known causes or reasons for the problem)?
  6. What was your response (actions, thoughts, feelings)?

Case study: Maya identifies the problem

Maya had a number of different problems in her life, but three stood out to her:

  1. I argue too much with my husband.
  2. I worry that Eva won’t get a good education.
  3. I have a hard time falling asleep and I am starting to feel like I am never well rested.

Maya chooses to work through problems 1 and 2 first because they are related. She tries to be very specific about identifying the exact problem.

Describe the overall problem

Eva’s sickle cell pain has made it really hard for her to go to school regularly and to keep up on her schoolwork. Because she is in high school we are worried about the impact her condition is going to have on her graduating on time. My husband and I have been struggling a lot with this. Every morning my husband and I fight about whether to make Eva go to school and which one of us will have to wake her up and get her moving.

Choose a specific problem part and analyze it

1. What happens that bothers you?

I do not like arguing with my husband every morning. It’s a bad way to start the day and I feel like my relationship with my husband is suffering. I don’t like yelling at Eva to start her day either.

2. Who else is part of the problem?

My husband and Eva

3. Where does this problem occur?

It usually occurs in our house, usually in the bedroom or the kitchen as my husband and I are getting ready for the day.

4. When does the problem occur?

It occurs many mornings before school.

5. Why does the problem occur?

Eva doesn’t wake up for school. It’s important to my husband and me that she goes to school and we try really hard to help her get there. But we end up arguing a lot about who has to go wake her and make her get ready for school.

6. How do you respond and feel when the problem occurs?

Both my husband and I are short with one another. We are both getting tired of dealing with this, especially when we know it happens many mornings. I feel very frustrated by the whole situation. I get angry at my husband and at Eva every time it happens.

7. On a scale of 1–5, how optimistic are you about solving this problem?

I would probably say a 3.

Maya has identified the problem she wants to address as, “My husband and I fight many mornings about whether to make Eva go to school.”

Last updated: March 4th 2024