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A parent’s guide to teaching problem solving

As adults most of us take our problem-solving skills for granted. We utilise these skills all the time to solve a range of problems, from simple daily problems to more complex issues. The ability to solve problems is an important skill through the life-span. These skills enable us to manage practical things like our finances, prioritise competing demands in a busy world and negotiate issues in relationships when they arise.

Teaching problem solving to children is a great way to increase their confidence and their sense of self-efficacy across many life domains. It can improve the quality of their peer and adult relationships and reduce stress related to problems that feel ‘too big’ to solve.

Our children are not born with the knowledge to solve problems. They require us to show them. Check out these 4 simple steps that can be used to teach problem-solving to children.

  1. Help your child to identify the problem. It can sometimes help to write things down or draw pictures for younger children.

    • What is the goal?

    • What are the obstacles or barriers?

    • It is likely that your child will present with emotional content here. Acknowledge the emotions and then try to get as clear a picture of the ‘facts’ as you can.

  1. Generate a list of possible solutions and talk them through logically.

    1. What are the pros and cons of each?

    2. Is it realistic?

    3. Is it within your child’s ability/do they have the internal and external resources needed?

    4. Some strategies might be avoidant in nature-try to replace these with goals that deal with the problem at hand e.g., If your child borrowed money from someone at school-avoiding the person for the rest of the school term is not going to solve the problem.

  1. Choose the solution that best fits and act it out.

    • Ask how they plan to do this?

    • Offer to role play the situation with them for practice.

  1. Reflect on the problem solving strategy

    • Did it work?

    • Were there any positive outcomes? (We could call these thumbs up outcomes)

    • Were there any unexpected or negative outcomes? (Thumbs down outcomes)

    • Praise the child for engaging in this process e.g., “You worked really hard to try to solve this problem. Well done”

Important points to consider:

  • Problem solving happens every day and your children are likely already engaging in versions of it. Praise them when you become aware that they have used appropriate problem-solving strategies without your involvement.

  • Encourage your children to recognise the kind of thoughts, emotions and physical feelings they have when confronted with a problem. Sometimes these events can provoke anxiety in children.

  • Be mindful of how your child approaches problems-if they tend to blame others for problem situations or ignore and avoid problem situations they may lack the confidence to address the issue at hand. Focus on building their skills rather than punishing ‘bad behaviour’.

  • Supporting your child with problem solving can also help to build resilience! Kids develop resilience from experiencing mild to moderate levels of stress and learning that they can manage these experiences with support from their primary caregivers. Eventually they learn to self-soothe in stressful situations and to practically manage challenges all by themselves!

We hope you find these steps useful in helping your children develop a strong foundation in being able to solve the problems they come across!

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