|Problem solving skills. We use them all the time at work, school, home and in social situations. They help us locate our keys, or solve a problem at work. For kids, they help them learn and think on their own without waiting to be told what to do.
The definition, according to Merriam Webster, is “the process or act of finding a solution to a problem.” When bosses, teachers and parents provide the next steps to solving a problem, then there is no true problem-solving practice. Without practice, our “solutions” can be anything from an impulsive response, to paralysis, where we do nothing and the problem is never solved or there are consequences that were never contemplated. Do you want to be able to trust that your children can make the right decisions when it comes to problem solving?
It can make for a long summer if you often hear, “I’m bored,” “I’m hungry” or, “Where are my shoes” and then your child or teen waits for you to suggest what they should do next. Often in our rush to get the kids to do what they need to do; we simply tell them what to do rather than having them think about it and figure it out for themselves. Have you supplied the snack or told your child where to locate their shoes recently? Providing an “instant” solution rather than allowing your child or teen to solve it themselves can create a dependency that delays their journey towards independence.
Problem solving skills are important in simple decisions we make every day. Our children are faced with a variety of challenges throughout their day, in school and out. Without the ability to come up with options, children may choose to avoid situations which can make things worse.
How to encourage problem solving:
- Use humor for example, “Hello, hungry, I’m Mom.”
- Ask an open-ended question, “I wonder where I would be if I were a shoe?”
- Identify the actual problem
- Suggest you brainstorm possible solutions together and then discuss pros and cons of each
- Allow your child to pick a solution and see what happens
Five Advantages to Developing Strong Problem-Solving Skills
1. Problem Solve to Avoid Boredom
When children are home during the summer, there is often unstructured time even if they are off to camp programs. Switching from a structured program to non-structured can sometimes be overwhelming. With so many choices they can have difficulty making a decision. Sometimes it is difficult for children to decide what to do in the moment. Creating a “menu” of choices together can help inspire them without having you run through their choices. Coming up with the ideas is often the stumbling block – even for adults, so having a ready made “menu” avoids that challenge.
2. How to prevent the problem from happening again
Once your child has solved a problem, make sure they understand what made that such a challenge and ask what they can do to prevent it from happening again. This can range from the basic, put your shoes in the same spot every day to remembering to be a thoughtful listener when their friends are talking. Discussing social situations before and/or after can help your child practice those “being a good friend” skills of listening, negotiating, taking turns, playing fair, etc.
3. Natural consequences
Let them make their own decision whether you agree with it or not and allow for natural consequences to happen (as long as they are safe). This opens the door for a discussion on other things they might want to consider next time. What did they forget about? Cause and effect skills develop from comparing the pros and cons.
4. Build Independence Skills
Creating routines, making sure there are routines and structure at home that children can depend on. Children need to trust that certain things will happen regularly. It is important they understand they are part of a team and should also be expected to contribute to daily life at home.
Help them learn how to solve problems and/or build skills. Ask what they would do and why to help brainstorm solutions and strategies. Discussing the pros and cons of each can then lead to better decisions being made.
Build positive self-talk and let them hear you problem solve by voicing your thoughts out loud to role model the process.
5. Self confidence
When kids succeed be sure to praise their effort and not just a generalized compliment that praises something they cannot control (intelligence, looks, etc.). Encourage a growth mindset attitude that emphasizes the effort and encourages perseverance to attain the goal, rather than the goal itself. As they see how effective they are, they will become more self-confident.
Failure is part of the learning process – as the song says, “nobody learns without getting it wrong.” So, let your kids, “try everything” and see what happens.
Everyone benefits from working on and encouraging problem solving skills. It’s simple, according to verywellfamily.com, once you identify the problem, then brainstorm several options, nothing is off limits. Now, go back through those options and identify the pros and cons. Pick a solution that looks good and try it out. Is it a success or do you need to try another solution? More practice, the better the skills.
Enjoy the rest of the summer!