Helping Your Kids to Problem Solve

Helping Children Learn to Problem Solve

rubrics cubeThere are many ways to help children learn to problem solve.  Often, as adults, we try to help children solve the problems they encounter – we want to be helpful or we don’t want to see our children struggle.  Let me tell you a story.

My daughter attended high school in the same district in which I worked, so we always talked to and from high school/ work.  One day, she simply stopped talking to me or at least sharing about things going on at school.  I gave her some space for several days, but when she did  not start sharing and talking with me again, I became concerned so I asked her why.  Her response changed my thinking from that day forward. She simply said, “Mom, I don’t want you to solve my problem with my boyfriend, I just want you to listen. I can solve it myself.”

Kids are amazing and when given the time and space, can generally solve their own problems.  They will come to you when they need help and when they do, listen more than you speak.

  • Listen to your child’s’ feeling and needs
  • Summarize their point of view to show them you have listened and understood
  • Invite your child to brainstorm with you
  • Write down all ideas – without judgment
  • Decide together which you like, don’t like or will follow through on.

HighScope Educational Research Foundation has provided several suggestions to help children develop problem solving skills.

Encourage children to describe the problems they encounter
When you see a child having a problem, hold back to let the child recognize and describe the situation. This first step helps children develop the ability to arrive at a solution. Children may not see problems in the same way as an adult, but it is more important for them to have the opportunity to view and describe it in their own words. In doing so, they begin to trust their skills as observers and analyzers. Not only is this process central to positive emotional development, it also lies at the heart of scientific thinking and reasoning.”

Give children time to come up with their own solutions
While the adult’s solution may be more efficient or effective, simply giving it to the child would deprive the child of an opportunity to learn and develop confidence in his or her problem-solving abilities.

Talk with children about what is and is not working
To help children move from trial and error to more systematic attempts at problem solving, adults can encourage them to describe and think about the results of their actions. Conversing with children about what they did and why it did (or did not) solve the problem helps to establish a cause-and-effect connection in their mind. Once they have this mental association, they are more likely to apply a solution to similar problems in the future.

Assist children who are frustrated
Sometimes children do need adult help, especially when their inability to solve a problem keeps them from moving forward with their plans.

Click on this link for a handy pdf resource for problem solving ideas.  Ideas for Scaffolding KDI 4. Problem Solving


About Lucy Salerno

I have been a resident of Fairfield for over 25 years and have 30 years’ teaching experience in California K – 6 schools. I have been a music teacher, band and choral director, elementary teacher in grades K – 6, a district level technology coordinator teaching, and an elementary school administrator. In 2011, my most recent school, Scandia Elementary, on Travis Air Force Base, was awarded the California Distinguished School Award for work and programs implemented under my watch. Because of my broad educational background, I know and understand what is needed in today's difficult educational environment. I have taught writing to children in numerous grades as a core subject as well as integrating writing into other curricula areas. I retired a few years ago from the Travis Unified School District, I love working with children, and am now dedicating my services and skills in support of your children. Through love and patience, I hope to understand a child's needs, meet them where they are, build self-confidence and develop a life-long love of learning.
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