Tips Stolen From the Kids’ Therapist #3 [Is this a big problem?]

Christmas break is here, which brings challenges for some of our kids – and for us. We may need to dig deep to keep ourselves regulated along with our kids. 

Today, I’m talking about a simple strategy for stressful moments – asking ourselves the question:

Is this a big problem or a little problem?

Over the years, Russ and I sat through many therapy sessions with our kids.  While the knowledge we gained continues to be invaluable for our kids, there are unexpected gifts for us – insights and skills we use to heal, cope, and manage our own relationships and lives.

This post is the third in the series Tips Stolen From the Kids’ Therapist.


Don’t miss:

Tip #1 This feeling won’t last forever

Tip #2 Even grown-ups need Do-overs

I have a little tip that was very helpful with Eby when he was younger and I find I still use for myself today.

He had extreme reactions to disappointments, mild injuries, corrections, and all kinds of situations. Our wonderful therapist, Deborah, taught us to use our hands and ask,

“Is this a big problem…?

Is this a big problem?

“…or a little problem?”

Or a little problem?

His brain was often stuck in crisis mode, so his reactions responded to the perceived big crisis. With support and this physical/visual reminder, he realized it was a little problem and then I could help him calm down.

In the framework of Sensory Processing Disorder, we would say that Eby had an inability to match the intensity of his responses to the intensity of the situation. He was on high alert – ready for something big to happen.

So how does this apply to me?

It’s not uncommon for me to feel my own “big feelings” about a situation, and let those emotions affect me more than necessary.

I may find myself going to great lengths to find a solution to a problem that I should simply let go. Other times I’ll worry about something I’ve said or done, and it will consume energy I should use in better ways.

It helps to step back and ask, “Is this a big problem, or a little problem?”

Often I realize I’ve let the problem grow in my mind until it’s taken on too much importance.

Having lived through tragedy, there are not many actual “big problems.” Facing death puts a lot in perspective.

Besides, God’s Word tells us a lot about worry.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil 4:6)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30).

And perhaps best of all, I love these words of Jesus, “Fear not, little flock….” (Luke 12:32)

When I make small problems into big problems, I waste energy and time which should be spent loving God and loving people.

I remember a night when I was upset about something, telling Russ about it in great detail. He listened for quite awhile, then he held his hands far apart and said, “Is this a big problem?” He brought his hands closer together and simply said, “Or…?”

I was annoyed for a moment, then realized the truth, this was not a life-changing, earth-shattering problem. Most likely it would feel smaller after a night of sleep. Most things look better in the morning when the house is quiet, my Bible is in my lap and a mug of coffee is in my hand.

Do you practice some form of “Is this a big problem or a little problem?”

What are some of the best tips you learned from your kids’ therapy sessions or from parenting books, etc. you apply to yourself?

As always, I love hearing from you. Take a moment to say hello.

If you’re still shopping for kids, take a look at my Top Toys for Kids for some great suggestions. If you have a child with sensory needs in your family, you might also look at my Top Sensory Toys and Tools post.

And if you’re looking for books, you’ll find some of my favorite books here.

Have a wonderful start to your week, friends.


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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Cathy Lankenau-Weeks
    December 19, 2016

    We use a version of this at my school (special education serving children with language-based learning needs). When a child has a big reaction over a small issue, we ask, “Is this a big deal or a little deal?” It’s very helpful!

    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 19, 2016

      Great, Cathy!

  2. Heidi
    December 19, 2016

    Oh Lisa. Just this morning I was all worried about something I now see is a little problem. Thank you.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 19, 2016

      So good to hear, Heidi. This little tip really does help.

  3. Stephanie
    December 25, 2016

    Thank you SO much for sharing this. My now 8 year old is 1 year out of treatment for brain cancer. Lately he really struggles with impulse and over reacting all Christmas break I have been using this strategy for myself and for him and it has made ALL the difference! It’s seriously like night and day, thanks again for sharing!

    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 26, 2016

      I’m so happy to hear this, Stephanie! Thank you for letting me know – it makes me so glad I took the time to write this post.


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