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How to teach your kids problem-solving skills

We've all been there: your child is facing a problem and they turn to you for a solution. You know you can fix their problem. In fact, it will be a lot easier and faster to just do it yourself. However, you also know that if you let them figure it out on their own, you will be doing them a huge favor. And next time, when they are faced with the same problem, they won't have to turn to you. 

In theory, the right thing to do seems so obvious. They need to learn, and they need to figure such things out for themselves, so you need to give them the space to do so. However, when they look at you with those eyes, it is hard not to just get up and make everything alright right away. That's what a lot of parents do, and ironically, it does a great disservice to their kids. 

Teaching your child basic problem-solving skills is important because it is one of the best ways for them to learn how to be independent. It is also a great way to help them build their confidence. So how can you do it? Well, here's how to teach your kids problem-solving skills. 

Why should you teach your child problem-solving skills? 

Before we get to the how, here's the why: 

  • Kids who have learned basic problem-solving skills are more confident and independent than those who haven't. 
  • Kids who do not have the right problems solving skills may avoid acting when faced with problems
  • Others may spring into action without analyzing the choices that they have, often ending up making the wrong decisions
  • When kids make impulsive choices, it can lead to bigger problems down the road
  • Teaching your child basic problem-solving skills is good for their mental health
  • According to various studies, kids who lack problem-solving skills are at a higher risk of depression. 

This is why it is so important that your child has the right set of problem-solving skills. They need to learn how to evaluate a problem, break it down, analyze their options, and solve for the best outcome. 

Having a problem-solving formula will help them become more confident and will stop them from feeling hopeless or overwhelmed when faced with a problem. Here is a simple problem-solving formula that you can start teaching your child in pre-school and develop it as they grow: 

  1. Identify the problem. Say the problem out loud. Putting the problem in words can make a big difference when your child is feeling stuck.
  2. Come up with possible solutions. Aim for at least 5 possible ways of solving the problem. Let your child come up with them and only help out when they are struggling. They don't have to be good ideas, they just need to know that there are many different potential solutions to any problem.
  3. Analyze the pros and cons of the solutions. What are the consequences of the solutions they proposed?
  4. Pick one solution. They should do this on their own from the list of the possible solutions they proposed after analyzing each one carefully. 
  5. Test the solution. It is time to implement the solution as a test. If it works out, that's great! If not, they have one more step to go...
  6. Rinse and repeat. If the solution they tested doesn't work out, it is time to go back to the drawing board. However, this time, they have more experience than they did before, and they know why what they tried didn't work out. They'll propose better solutions and have a better chance of success.  

Problem-solving skills for young kids

Young children learn how to solve their problems through play. You can promote their quality of play by getting them the right toys. Puzzles are particularly great for this. Board games can also help kids study patters and think critically. However, if you do not want to spend any money, classic games like hide and seek can also get their brain juices flowing by making them think hard about where to hide or where to look. 

With younger kids, it's all about learning what works and what doesn't. For example, if they can't find a particular toy, give them some time and let them search for it. Only step in when you see them struggling. Then, when the toy is found, work together to figure out why it gets lost so often. Maybe they need to store their toys better after playing with them? 

The rule of thumb here is to take a step back and not offer any help unless they ask you to. When they do ask, first show them how it is done then take a step back so they can practice. Then offer as little help as possible until they figure it out on their own. 

Problem-solving skills for older kids

As kids grow older, they become better at solving their own problems. However, every once in awhile, you may need to step in and empower them a little bit. Here are a few tips for teaching problem-solving skills to older kids: 

  • Break big problems down. For example, if your child always forgets things in the morning, try to figure out together why this is the case. How can you fix it? 
  • Let them learn from the consequences of their actions. For example, when they see that they made the team because they practiced a lot, they'll learn that good things come when they put in the work for them. 
  • Help them analyze the pros and cons of situations. If your child is struggling to make a decision, you can help them write down a list of pros and cons and weigh their decision based on that. This is an important analysis skill that will benefit them greatly in all areas of their lives. 
  • Let them try to find solutions to problems on their own. Give your child a chance to figure things out on their own. If they are struggling, ask them for permission to share some advice. Let them decide whether or not they want it. 

Final thoughts

When it comes to problem-solving, while it is important for kids to figure stuff out on their own, they also learn a lot from watching you. This is why you should show them how you handle your own problems. Let them know when you made a mistake, admit that you made a mistake, then do something to fix that mistake. This will teach them two things: first, that no one is perfect, and second, that every problem can be solved if they put their heads to it. 

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