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3 Ways to Jump-start Your Child’s Problem Solving Skills

tl;dr

  • Reward self-reliance
  • Allow decision-making
  • Keep calm under pressure

Parent wants their children to grow up to become strong, happy, independent adults. But smart parents know that this doesn’t happen automatically. While some children may have a natural instinct for solving problems themselves, most need a little boost to learn this behavior. Problem solvers have better coping skills in life. They see themselves as empowered instead of being victims to the things that life throws in their path. Following are some ways that parents can teach problem solving skills and confidence to youngsters of kindergarten age.

Encourage Self-Reliance

Self-reliant child rowing

Looking to oneself for answers is integral to the art of problem solving. Whenever we are faced with a problem, our first instinct should be considering how we can solve our own problems, not who can solve our problems for us. Self-reliance is the building block for this kind of thought process, so it’s important to encourage this kind of habit as early as possible.

Of course, children aged three to five are not self-reliant at all. They need adults to keep them safe from harm, model behavior and feed them and so on. Yet, there are definite times when even youngsters at this age can demonstrate self-reliance. In fact, a naturally-independent child might already by showing simple signs of self-reliance. Here are two practical life examples of times when a child begins to show self-reliance versus a non-self-reliant response:

Example 1: The family pet is being too friendly with the child, licking them or jumping on the child at an inappropriate time.

Self-Reliant Response: The child pushes the pet away and attempts to discipline the pet with words they have heard the adult use, such as, “no!” “sit!” “lay down!”

Non-Self-Reliant response: The child complains or whines to the adult to get the pet to stop licking or jumping on them, or the child goes to sit, protected, on the parent’s lap, where they expect the parent to fend off the pet.

Example 2: The child forgets an important item when leaving the home, such as their favorite cuddly toy or a school book.

Self-Reliant Response: The child says, “Wait, mommy! We have to go back to get Fluffy. I forgot him in my room!”

Non-Self-Reliant Response: The child wails and cries, “Oh no! I forgot Fluffy!” then waits while mom suggests going back to get the toy.

As you can see there is stark difference between the child who takes matters into their own hands and the child who looks to others to solve problems. If your child demonstrates non-self-reliance, you must hold back your impulse to solve the problem. Instead, ask your child what they are going to do to solve it. Using the examples above, in example one, you could say, “What can you do to stop Fido from licking you?” In example two, you could answer, “Oh no! What are you going to do?” These responses encourage self-reliance because they put the problem squarely back in the control of the child, who must then think creatively to problem solve.

Permit Decision-Making

Children can’t problem solve—indeed will never even try to problem solve—if they have no decision-making power in the household. If any person is completely powerless, then they can’t solve problems, even if they come up with a good solution. This is why parents who want to teach their children to be problem solvers must permit decision-making. Since we’re talking about children aged three to five, the decisions must not be important; and they don’t need to be. The object is to simply let the child have some control over minor decisions in their own lives. Innocuous ways to permit decision-making include:

  • Choose their own clothing on non-school days
  • Choose how to organize their toys in their own room
  • Giving choices between two healthy vegetables
  • Choose between now/later (watch cartoons now, or right after dinner; go to playground now or wait until daddy can come, too, etc.
  • Little decision-making things like this help to reinforce that they have a little bit of control over their day; not enough to make them feel insecure, but just enough where they feel empowered to solve problems.

Acknowledge Problems Calmly When They Arise

Children aged between three and five really don’t have any problems that are serious. As adults, we are accustomed to dealing with heavy-duty problems and finding ways to solve them. But in the child’s eyes, small, tiny problems might feel overwhelming. Your job as a parent is to acknowledge the problem so the child knows you empathize, but not to overreact. When you are calm about any problem, the child can feel calm, too. Your calmness will project your confidence that the child can solve the problem, thus making it easier for them to make a habit of being a problem solver later in life. They’ll learn to take every problem in stride and look at it objectively until they can find a solution. Here is an example:

Example: The child falls down and tears her new party dress. The child is not hurt.

Your reaction: “Oh, no. Your new dress is torn.”

Child: “Are you mad at me?”

You: “I’m not mad. I’m just glad you aren’t hurt.”

Child: “What about my dress? It’s ruined!”

You: “What can we do about that?”

Child: “Maybe we can have it fixed?”

You: “What a good idea! Let’s figure out a way to fix it.”

You and the child would then talk about ways to fix the dress. This also empowers the child to come up with ways to solve the problem, which you can then help implement (sew the dress, take to a seamstress, etc.)

These are three excellent ways to teach your child to be a problem solver. By teaching self-reliance, allowing some decision-making and reacting calmly when problems present themselves, parents can set a foundation that will serve their children for a lifetime of success with overcoming problems!

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