Pearls of Creative Problem-solving

Puppet peace table

We want our children to be creative problem-solvers. U.S. preschools and kindergartens brim with creativity! Then we take most toys out of classrooms of first graders. Perhaps when we do not see much creative problem-solving in adulthood, a creativity drop-off started with misguided educational ideas that toys cannot be learning tools from ages 6-onward.

I loved using psychotherapy techniques that incorporated toys in my private practice. As a family therapist my clients ranged from ages 3-83 (many grandparents were raising grandchildren). A sand tray with tiny figurines was a favorite among all ages. It was not uncommon for an adolescent or adult to pick up one of many puppets in my office and hold it part-way through a session. Some teens took two puppets to illustrate some scene from a difficult interaction they had endured at school. Many people talk best when their hands are moving.

Some companies understand the need for toying with different moves than desk-sitting delivers. A Google office has a slide to get between floors! Employees enjoy company game rooms with a pool table and other “toys” like arcade-favorite Ms. Pac-Man. One Google office that I visited was stimulating with a variety of games present amidst vibrantly painted walls.

This brings me to question whether Mr. Putin had an enriched childhood with ample play time. My guess is no. David Hoffman (The Washington Post) claims that Putin learned, “…[to] never show weakness because the weak are always defeated.” Other writers tell of horrific times in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) where Putin was born. During World War II most of the population of 3 million in Leningrad were killed. It was termed a genocide. This is an ominous cultural legacy for any child.

Prior to Putin’s birth, his parents lost two sons—one died in infancy and the second son died from diphtheria. The family grief must have been torturous. Both parents worked and one wonders who took care of the young Putin when his parents were at work. Reportedly, Putin was bullied in childhood. He learned judo and became an expert at sambo, a Russian sport combining judo with wrestling. In high school he played handball and worked on the school’s radio station. His fascination with spy movies may have led to a career with the Russian secret service or KGB.

We cope with tragedy and grief legacies by first acknowledging them. When unresolved grief piles up through generations, it is challenging for any person. Creative problem-solving is not the first thing on one’s mind. Filling the potholes of grieving can take on strange actions. In the movie “The Interpreter,” Nicole Kidman says, “Vengeance is a lazy form of grief.”

Is it ironic that there are mass killings (genocide?) happening in Ukraine? Does history HAVE to repeat itself?  

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:

68. What legacy in your family may have a huge effect upon your current life?

69. How do you decide to have “peace table talks” in your personal conflicts?                                    

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.


  1. “Vengeance is a lazy form of grief”…. wow, that family legacy is so powerful and rarely is truly addressed.


  2. Thanks for giving us some history on Putin. I have often thought that children and adults that act out in mean and hateful ways must have had a very sad childhood. It reminds me that when people say are do mean things to me, it is usually more about them than me.


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