Our kids will encounter many, many problems throughout their lives. As parents and teachers, we can help them gain the skills they need to handle these problems.
Even from the young toddler years, kids can learn they are capable or solving their problems. We can’t solve problems for them and sometimes kids need to make the “wrong” choice and fail to solve a problem.
Key points on problem-solving:
- Model our own decision making out loud for our kids to see.
- Ask for their help when we encounter a problem. This is a great way to model asking for help, how to solve different adult problems, teach life-skills, and have fun conversations and connect with our kids.
- When our kids have a problem, use empathy before anything else. This is especially true if they are flooded or overwhelmed. Their brains can go into fight-flight-freeze and be stuck in their emotional right brain. If this is the case, they won’t have the ability to think logically. So, meet them with love and empathy to calm their right brain. Once they are calm, they can start to use their logical left brain. (Read more on empathic statements here.)
- Ask problem-solving questions to help stimulate their thinking.
- Guide them to follow problem-solving steps.
- Resist saying one of their ideas is “bad” or “won’t work.” If it’s safe for everyone involved, allow them to make wrong choices and help them evaluate why it didn’t work.
- For younger kids, decision making and problems are usually pretty small (although they certainly don’t feel small to our kids). As kids age, their problems become bigger and can even be life-threatening. It’s so important to allow kids to practice solving problems as early as possible so they can work on their decision-making skills, resilience, and perseverance.
- Avoid making decisions for your kids so they can take full credit for the outcome and can’t blame you for the victory or defeat.
- Help your kids develop a growth mindset. Mistakes help us learn and the earlier we can instill this mindset in our kids, the more likely they’ll be to take on challenges instead of becoming overwhelmed by them.
Steps to problem-solving:
- Calm. If the problem is causing an emotional reaction, we need to be calm to make a wise choice. To do this, we can teach our kids emotional intelligence and how to respond to big feelings.
- Define. What is the problem? Can it be solved?
- Options. What are some options for solving the problem?
- Possibilities. What are the possible outcomes for each of these action steps? Are there outcomes you want to avoid? Is there a more favorable outcome?
- Act. Make a choice to solve the problem.
- Evaluate. How did it go? Are you happy with the outcome? Are further steps needed? Is another solution needed?
Here are some problem-solving questions to stimulate thinking. We can ask our kids these in conversation or let them ask themselves.
- What is the problem?
- What is the hardest part?
- What is the easiest part?
- Do you need help? Who can I ask?
- Can the problem be solved? If not, what parts am I in control of to change?
- As the parent ask, what can I help with?
- What caused the problem?
- What can I do differently next time so this problem doesn’t happen again?
- What are my possible solutions? What are the possible outcomes for each?
- Which of these looks like it will work best?
- Will my choice impact or hurt anyone?
- Have I dealt with a problem like this before? What did I do?
- What will be different when this problem is solved?
- What can I do next?
- What can I do differently?
- If the solution doesn’t work out well, which solution is my next best option?
- What difference will doing ____ make?
- How would I help someone else solve a similar problem?
- What skills can I use to solve the problem?
- What skills did I use to solve the problem?
- When can I apply these skills again?
- What role did I play in this problem and the solution? Who else was involved?
- What did I learn?
- Am I surprised by the outcome? Why?
- Why was I successful?
We can’t prevent all the problems our kids will face in life. But we can coach them and give them tools to overcome many of these problems.
By: Emily Scott, PhD
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