How to Teach Children to be Problem Solvers

Teaching children how to be problem solvers does not begin when children are teenagers; it begins as soon as children are able to understand the concept of learning problem-solving skills. When children begin developing problem solving at a young age, they learn skills that will be beneficial throughout their lifetime.

Teaching the young child how to solve problems

Parents may think that their toddlers and primary school children are not capable of understanding or developing skills related to how to solve problems on their own. These parents would be surprised to learn that learning problem-solving is a part of the curriculum at early childhood learning centers and preschools. Teaching a child basic problem-solving skills at a younger age will prepare them to solve the problems they will encounter in elementary, high school, college, the work force and beyond.

The Scholastic article “How You Can Help Children Solve Problems,” focuses on the classroom ranging from infancy to second grade. The article shares that creative thinking and critical thinking skills are essential to problem solving. Creative thinking may look at a different way of doing something or generating new ideas. Critical thinking involves mentally breaking down a problem into parts and analyzing it, such as with math problems. Comparing similarities and differences are a part of critical thinking.  Some of the lessons to teach problem solving skills to young children in the classroom can be utilized at home very easily.

Easy ways that parents can help children develop problem solving skills

Children are naturally curious and it is very easy to teach them at a young age how to solve many problems themselves. Encourage your child to think by using examples of what Scholastic calls “good examples of thinking problems that have many right answers.” Ask children to name all the blue objects in the room. Ask him to tell you all the ways you would get to the store if you did not have a car. Ask her to tell you all the objects she can think of that are square. To encourage critical thinking, ask children to build all the different types of buildings he can think of with his blocks. Ask her to name all the ways that family members’ hair (or socks, shoes or anything else you can think of) is alike and how it is different. Make problem-solving fun, not a chore.

Get the facts and demonstrate alternatives to conflict

When parents intervene in their children’s’ conflicts, they must know how to do it in a way that does not solve the issues for the children, but encourages them to work out their own problems. When siblings fight, ask both children what the conflict is over in a calm voice. Once you have the basic details of the conflict, it is important to get children to see how their actions may affect other children, which they may not be aware of.

Nina Chen, Ph.D., CFLE, human development specialist, Jackson County, University of Missouri Extension suggests helping children set the conflict resolution goal and define what they want to happen. In “How to help children develop problem-solving skills,” Dr. Chen also suggests generating alternatives without criticizing the child’s ideas. Ask them how they believe someone else in the same situation might solve the problem if the child cannot come up with their own ideas for solving the problem. Finally, parents should help children to evaluate their proposed resolution to the problem. This includes asking the child questions such as if the proposed solution to the problem is safe, if it is fair to everyone, how everyone involved would feel. By asking such questions, parents are encouraging children to evaluate their ideas, discover what is acceptable and unacceptable, and to summarize which ideas are best.

Step back when the time is right

While it can be easier for parents to just jump in and resolve problems and conflicts for their children, it is imperative not to display behaviors of overprotective parents who feel their children have to be shielded from everything. Try to be patient as children attempt to resolve their own problems. Of course, if there are genuine safety issues involved, parents will want to protect their children by stepping in.

When parents allow children to learn problem-solving skills, children develop skills that will last throughout childhood and adulthood. Children who learn effective problem solving skills early on will grow up to be more confident and competent adults.