How to Help Your Kids Solve Problems

This came home from school with Mr almost 7 recently.  It's a little booklet titled, 'When I have a problem I can...'  I was thrilled no end.  We talk a lot about solving problems at our house as it's a skill I want my kids to develop early in life. I was really pleased to see that school had a similar idea.

How to help your kids solve problems - Potential Psychology Blog

Problem solving is a coping strategy.  We can learn to cope with life's challenges by thinking about them as problems that generally have solutions.  Then it's a matter of finding a solution to that problem.  If we've got good coping skills we're less likely to get stressed and feel overwhelmed by life.  

As adults some of our problems can be pretty complex and finding the right solution is challenging.  When our kids face kid-type problems, teaching them the basic skills of problem solving gives them a skill for life.  They can use this skill as their problems and challenges get more complex as they grow.

Here are some great tips for helping kids to solve problems, adapted from Kids Matter.

  1. Understand the problem. To do this we need to really listen to our kids and ask a lot of questions.  Kids don't always have the words they need to explain the problem in our terms. They may not understand the problem themselves. It helps to use questions such as, 'When does it happen?' 'Who is there?' 'Can you give me an example?' and 'What are you doing when this happens?' Asking questions that elicit facts can help you piece together the situation. 
  2. Brainstorm some solutions. Once you have a better understanding of the problem, you can work together to come up with solutions.  Your job as the parent is to ask the right questions to get your child to come up with ideas.  Developing problem solving is a thinking activity.  It doesn't help your child to develop their thinking skills if you do the thinking for them. Ask questions such as, 'What do you think you could do?' 'What do you think your teacher might suggest?' 'How could we solve this problem together?' Avoid closed questions that they can answer with a 'yes' or 'no'.
  3. Test the solutions. Once you have a plan of action you should encourage your child to test it. It might help to work out where he or she could garner support if needed, whether from you, a friend at school or a perhaps a teacher or mentor. To make it easier for your child to follow the plan, talk through each step. Maybe determine a time (playtime, lunchtime, after school, when a certain event occurs) and one or two alternative responses that he or she might make depending on the problem itself. The clearer the action plan the easier it will be for your little person to follow through.
  4. Did it work? Once they've had a chance to test the solution check whether it worked.  If it did, a little celebration is in order. Maybe a fist bump and a mention of how cool it is when you can solve your own problems.  If things didn't go to plan it's time to brainstorm a few other options.  Questions to ask: 'What went wrong?' 'Why do you think that happened?' and 'What do you think you could do differently?' Then start the process again. Remind them that sometimes things take practice. You might need to go back to step one to ensure that you both have a good fix on the problem.
  5. More things you can do. Model good problem solving yourself.  Our kids soak up everything we do (scary I know) and you are their best example of how to approach a problem.  If you throw your hands up in the air and despair at the hopelessness of a situation it will be hard to convince them to do otherwise. It's also a great idea to get kids to look for help from others.  By doing this they realise that they are not alone in their problems and that there are others around who can and will help.

How have you helped your kids to solve problems? Do you have strategies that work? Do you use these strategies yourself?

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