From a board game to the board room, problem solving is a skill that can get you through many tricky situations in life. So how can you teach your kids to become good problem solvers?
Children need to practice their problem-solving skills. The starting point can be everyday play. Here, they are surrounded with chances to problem solve, whether they’re playing an imaginary game with their toys, building with blocks, or coloring. It’s the perfect time for them to show you what they know and what they can do. It also gives you the chance to prompt them towards a solution and to praise their efforts.
For example, your child might be working on a puzzle. They ask for your help finding a missing piece. Instead of just handing them the piece, you could prompt them to find the answer themselves. You could say something like, “What size piece are you looking for? What color?” and guide them towards the answer.
This not only teaches them about the steps of problem solving, it sends them the message that problems have solutions. And they will realize that they are able to find those solutions.
Growing up in an environment like this will help kids become confident enough to tackle problems in the future.
Here are 10 ways to teach your children problem-solving skills.
- Don’t be a “Helicopter Parent”.
Give your child some space. Whatever age your kids are, allow them to make mistakes and teach them how to move forward.
- Encourage creative play.
Remember wooden blocks? How about building a fort from available material? Kids of all ages learn most in the context of play. Make sure their play involves enough challenge and requires imagination. Eventually, problem solving becomes its own reward.
- Build the occasional road block into their experience.
This is the opposite of solving your kids’ problems. Make the difficulty reasonable, and make sure a solution is possible. The more informed choices they have to make the better.
- Provide multiple potential solutions.
Whenever it is possible, facilitate decision making. Keep the ball rolling by making sure your kids don’t routinely avoid making tough choices because you automatically issue a default solution that’s nonnegotiable.
- Make problem solving a fun part of the culture of your home.
Make surmounting difficulties fun. We all run into problems all the time, so why not make surmounting family challenges with a positive attitude simply the way your household does business.
- Read problem-solving stories together.
In his classic young adult novel Hatchet, author Gary Paulsen tells the story of a teen lost in the wilderness. He survives by keeping his wits about him and solving problems as they come along. Use stories like this to inspire.
- Try some do-it-yourself projects together.
Not handy? No problem. Learn together. In fact, the more your child sees you in action, problem solving step by step, the more of a problem solver your child will become.
- Teach them basic problem-solving steps.
- Identify the problem. (For example, “I always miss the school bus.”)
- Break the problem into manageable parts, so each task does not seem impossible.
- My homework is not complete.
- I didn’t eat my breakfast.
- I haven’t brushed my teeth.
- My lunch isn’t packed.
- My backpack is not ready.
Tackle the parts one at a time until the problem is solved.
- Allow children to experience failure.
If we’re unwilling to see our children fail at a task, then we’re unwilling for our children to learn.
- Routinely ask your kids for help.
Make sure the children understand that you respect their capacity to solve problems. “I don’t know how we’re going to afford to a big Christmas this year. What do you think?” Practice brainstorming as a family. You’d be surprised at how creative they can be.
Kids who lack problem-solving skills may avoid taking action when faced with a problem. Rather than put their energy into solving the problem, they may avoid addressing it. That’s why many kids fall behind in school or struggle to maintain friendships.
Teach Kids How to Evaluate the Problem
Before kids can solve the problem, they need to identify exactly what the problem is. In fact, just stating the problem can make a big difference. For example, a child who can say to his mother, “Kids are picking on me at recess,” may begin to feel a little bit of relief.
Once kids identify the problem, teach them to develop several possible solutions before springing into action. Try to brainstorm at least four possible ways to solve the problem.
Then discuss the pros and cons of each approach. It is important that kids learn to recognize the possible positive and negative consequences of their behaviors.
Once your child recognizes several options and the possible consequences of each, decide which choice is best. Teach kids that if they choose a course of action and it doesn’t resolve the problem, they can always try something else. Encourage them to keep trying to solve a problem until it is resolved.
Actively Discuss Problems Together
When problems arise, don’t rush to solve your child’s problems for him. If you see your child struggling, give him a chance to figure it out on his own. If he’s unable to come up with a solution, step in and help him think of solutions. But don’t automatically tell him what to do.
Ask, “What are some things you could do about this?” If he can’t come up with any ideas, offer one of your own. Remember, even a silly answer or far-fetched idea is a possible solution. The key is to help him see that with a little creativity, he can find many different potential solutions.
Once you try a solution, revisit the discussion again. Talk about whether it worked or decide if you want to try something different.
Allow for Natural Consequences
Natural consequences may also teach problem-solving skills. So when it’s appropriate, allow your child to face the natural consequences of his action. Just make sure it’s safe to do so. For example, let your teenager spend all of his money during the first 10 minutes you’re at an amusement park if that’s what he wants. Then, let him go the rest of the day without any spending money. Consider these natural consequences as a teachable moment to help work together on problem-solving.