Teaching Problem-Solving to Kids: the How To's
As average human beings, we face conflicts every day, since birth. During every age, the conflicts differ. Kids face problems academically, during play, during complex tasks, or even socially. Our job as educators or parents is to teach the kids how to solve their problems independently, rather than waiting for an adult to interfere and resolve. Independence and problem-solving help kids become confident and successful human beings.
Kids with problem-solving skills also build emotional intelligence, creativity, and persistence, through thinking about solutions and trying multiple times.
Teaching kids problem-solving depends on their age, where they are still developing and their cognition is still growing. However, some strategies can be applied regardless of the kids’ age.
1. Model Effective Problem-Solving
When you as a parent face a conflict, act the progress of facing it to solve the problem from A to Z. That is what modeling is. Start with the reaction, and dive into the steps of problem solving by thinking out loud. The kids will also learn that they have to try many times in order to get the appropriate solution.
Not only will the kids learn how to solve that particular problem, but they will also regulate their emotions when facing a conflict, and try to apply it to any other problem using their creativity. Real-life examples and modeling help to linger the memory and lesson behind it in the kids’ brains. It is also beneficial to help them understand that it is completely normal and okay to make mistakes and face challenges in life. That way, they will acknowledge the fact that the world is not only turning around them.
Remind them that they can only solve the problems that are in their control. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), it is extremely important to learn how to let go of the things that we cannot control; these kinds of problems will only linger and make the individual more anxious.
2. Ask for Advice
Asking the kids for advice when you, the parent, face a specific challenge assures them that it is normal to make mistakes and find things difficult. In addition, it boosts their confidence and lets them be in charge of the problem-solving task. Confidence is increased when the kids perceive an adult asking for their advice, valuing it, and taking it. That way, these skills are enhanced.
3. Don’t Provide “The Answer”
When asking for advice or even observing them solve a conflict, do not provide them with the appropriate solution. Instead, encourage them to keep on trying until they solve the problem. By trying multiple times and thinking of different ways, this struggle will facilitate their problem-solving skills.
4. Use Emotion Coaching, by Ashley Cullins
To step into a problem-solving mindset, young children need to first learn to manage their emotions. After all, it’s difficult for a small child to logically consider solutions to a problem if he’s mid-tantrum.
One way to accomplish this is by using the emotion coaching process outlined by John Gottman.
First, teach your kids that ALL emotions are acceptable. There are NO “bad” emotions. Even seemingly negative emotions like anger, sadness, and frustration can teach us valuable lessons. What matters is how we respond to these emotions.
Second, follow this process:
Step One: Naming and validating emotions. When your child is upset, help her process the way she’s feeling. Say something like, “I understand that you’re upset because Jessica is playing with the toy you wanted.”
Step Two: Processing emotions. Guide your child to her calming space. If she doesn’t have one, it’s a good idea to create one. Let her calm her body and process her emotions so she can problem-solve, learn, and grow.
Step Three: Problem Solving. Brainstorm solutions with your child, doing more LISTENING than talking during the conversation. This allows your child to practice her problem-solving skills, and she’s more likely to actually implement the solutions she came up with herself.
Say, “Show Me the Hard Part”
When your child struggles or feels frustrated, try a technique suggested by mom and parenting blogger Lauren Tamm. Simply say, “Show me the hard part.”
This helps your child identify the ROOT of the problem, making it less intimidating and easier to solve.
Repeat back what your child says, “So you’re saying…”
Once you both understand the real problem, prompt your child to come up with solutions. “There must be some way you can fix that…” or “There must be something you can do…”
Now that your child has identified “the hard part,” she’ll likely be able to come up with a solution. If not, help her brainstorm some ideas. You may try asking the question, “If you DID know, what would you think?” and see what she comes up with.
Your child can practice finding solutions to obstacles they’re facing with WonderKit that has emotional support through Ed and Edina, and mental and growth support through our activity book.
5. Problem-Solve with Creative Play, by Ashley Cullins
Allow your child to choose activities and games based on her interests. Free play provides plenty of opportunities to navigate and creatively solve problems.
Children often learn best through play. Playing with items like blocks, simple puzzles, and dress-up clothes can teach your child the process of problem solving.
Even while playing, your child thinks critically: Where does this puzzle piece fit? What does this do? I want to dress up as a queen. What should I wear? Where did I put my tiara? Is it under the couch?
Encourage creative play, creative thinking, and problem-solving with our fabulous WonderKit!
6. Problem-Solve with Storybooks, by Ashley Cullins
Read age-appropriate stories featuring characters who experience problems, such as:
Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy by Jacky Davis: The story of two friends who want to play together but can’t find a game to agree on. After taking turns making suggestions, they arrive at a game they both want to play: Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy.
The Curious George Series by Margaret and H.E. Rey: A curious little monkey gets into and out of dilemmas, teaching kids to find solutions to problems of their own.
Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber: Ira’s thrilled to have a sleepover at his friend Reggie’s house. But there’s one problem: Should he or should he not bring his teddy bear? It may seem small, but this is the type of early social problem your child might relate to.
Connect these experiences to similar events in your child’s own life, and ASK your child HOW the characters in these stories could solve their problems. Encourage a variety of solutions, and discuss the possible outcomes of each.
This is a form of dialogue reading, or actively ENGAGING your child in the reading experience. Interacting with the text instead of passively listening can “turbocharge” the development of literacy skills such as comprehension in preschool-aged children.
By asking questions about the characters’ challenges, you can also give your child’s problem-solving abilities a boost.
You can even have your child roleplay the problem and potential solutions to reinforce the lesson.