How to Teach Kids Problem-Solving Skills

Give them skills to make good decisions

Father and children doing jigsaw puzzle together
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Whether your child can't find his math homework or he's forgotten his lunch, good problem-solving skills are the key to helping him manage his life.  You can begin teaching basic problem-solving skills during preschool and help your child sharpen his skills into high school and beyond.

Reasons Kids Need Problem-Solving Kids

Kids face a variety of problems every day, ranging from academic difficulties to problems on the sports field.

Yet, few of them have a formula for solving those problems.

Kids who lack problem-solving skills may avoid taking action when faced with a problem. Rather than put his energy into solving the problem, he may avoid addressing it. That's why many kids fall behind in school or struggle to maintain friendships.

Other kids who lack problem-solving skills may spring into action without recognizing their choices. Their impulsive behavior may create even bigger problems for them. 

For example, a child may hit a peer who cuts in front of him in line because he's not sure what else to do. Or he may walk out of class when he's being teased because he can't think of any other ways to make it stop. 

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 tel him what to do. 

Say, "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.

Help your child practice problem-solving in real-life situations. If your child forgets to do his homework, don’t rush to take away his privileges

Instead, sit down with him to discuss the problem using the problem-solving process. He may have several ideas about how he can do better.

Try to reach a solution together.

Provide plenty of praise when your child is brainstorming and evaluating his options.  

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 do to so, 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.

This can lead to a discussion about problem-solving to help her make a better choice next time. Consider these natural consequences as a teachable moment to help work together on problem-solving.

Sources

Kashani-Vahid L, Afrooz G, Shokoohi-Yekta M, Kharrazi K, Ghobari B. Can a creative interpersonal problem solving program improve creative thinking in gifted elementary students? Thinking Skills and Creativity. 2017;24:175-185.

Shokoohi-Yekta M, Malayeri SA. Effects of Advanced Parenting Training on Childrens Behavioral Problems and Family Problem Solving. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences. 2015;205:676-680.

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