Boost Your Child’s Problem-Solving Skills

At all stages of life, we have challenges and problems we must approach and solve. From the moment babies are born, they learn that when they feel hungry they must use vocal and physical cues to let their caregiver know–that’s problem solving! When an infant sees a ball across the room that she wants, she must either move her body in the direction of the ball or communicate to her caregiver (through pointing or vocal cues) that she wants the ball – again, that’s problem solving!

As children get older, their problems change. Instead of problem-solving how to share a toy, it might be how to tackle a big homework project or overcome stage fright. All of us can benefit from learning the skills we need to help us better solve problems.

Model problem solving

Children learn a lot through watching others. Let your child see how you approach your daily challenges or problems. Talk about how a challenge can be broken down into smaller parts that we can work out one at a time. When you have a problem or challenge, talk together about how you could meet it. For example, “I forgot to get veggies at the store this morning. What could we do about that? What are some ideas? We could make another trip to the store, or use canned or frozen ones for tonight’s dinner. What solution do you think we should choose?”

Involve your child in family problem solving meetings

Framing a problem as a challenge we can meet can be a good place to start. There may be times when you can involve your child in the process of solving a problem or facing a challenge that affects the whole family, such as screen time rules, chores, or planning the weekend’s outings. Start with a challenge that is easily solved, and encourage your child to share their ideas. When your child expresses an opinion about a possible solution to the problem, use encouraging comments such as, “Yes! You’re really thinking about this! What other ideas can you think of?” Try to keep from judging or dismissing their ideas. Brainstorming is about coming up with a list — and an out-of-the-box idea may just spark the perfect solution.

Problem solving step-by-step

When a challenge or problem presents itself, try these steps:

  • State the problem clearly.
  • Brainstorm some possible solutions.
  • Choose a solution you want to try.
  • Try out the new solution.
  • Review how the solution worked and make any necessary changes.

Take a step back before stepping in

As parents and caregivers, it’s hard to see children struggle and sometimes we step in to help when it may be more helpful to take a step back. Think about the baby learning to roll over or crawl. They see the toy just out of their reach, and they are figuring out how to move their body to grasp it. They need to attempt different solutions until they find one that works.

Before you step in, encourage your child to go through the problem-solving steps with you: state the problem; then have your child make a list of some solutions. Ask your child to pick one of their solutions and try it out. From there, ask them whether they would like more support with their problem or whether they’ve solved it themselves! Then remember to evaluate how their solution worked.

Celebrate the process! Point out how your child solved their problem themselves. “You thought about what you wanted, thought of how you could get it, and made it happen. How do you feel about that?”

Different challenges are going to require different solutions and approaches. By helping your child work through a problem, supporting their problem-solving skills, and being available when they need you, will give your child the confidence and assurance they need to tackle many of life’s challenges.

This article is brought to you by Parenting Now Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis, and Lynne Grilley. 

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