Parenting & Family

How to Develop Your Child’s Problem Solving Skills

Imagine you have picked up your young child from preschool and he or she is crying. Is it your first instinct to ask what is wrong? Of course! What if your child has said that their friends were being mean to them? Do you immediately give your child advice on how to handle the situation? Or, does your conversation with your child involve problem solving?

Problem solving is a skill that children need to learn at a young age. Children encounter problems on a daily basis with siblings, parents, friends, at school, playing sports, and with difficult tasks. Without being able to properly cope with these problems, children may “melt down”, give up, or lose confidence in their own abilities.

Here are some ways you can help develop your child’s problem solving skills:

  • Have your child identify what the problem is and how it makes them feel. It is important for children to learn to identify what emotion they are feeling (hurt, angry, disappointed, frustrated, etc.) and what has led to this emotion. Are they frustrated because their friend won’t share their favorite toy? Are they angry because they did not hit the ball during the last tee ball game?
  • Acknowledge, without judgement, that you understand how they are feeling and that you have heard what they have said.
  • Allow your child time to brainstorm ways they could fix the problem or what they could do differently in the future. You may need to contribute some ideas for them to think about. Can they use a kitchen timer with their friend so that they each have an equal amount of time to play with the toy? Can they practice hitting in the backyard so they feel more confident at the next tee ball game?
  • Have your child choose a solution to try. Once your child has found a solution that they like, have them think about what will happen once they try it. How will other people feel? Is it safe? Will they hurt other people’s feelings? Once your child has considered these questions, have them try the solution.
  • Allow natural consequences (not if it is a safety concern!). Sometimes, even with guidance, children do not make good decisions. Did they take the toy away from their friend before the time was up and now their friend doesn’t want to play with them? As long as your child’s safety is not being compromised, allow your child to experience natural consequences. These are learning opportunities.
  • Provide praise when your child comes up with a solution and uses that solution to solve their problem. Discuss why this solution worked and any positive steps your child took to make their situation better.

As a parent, it can be difficult not to swoop in and solve your child’s problems for them. It is important for you to give your child the skills they need to identify their problem, find a solution, and help them learn from natural consequences.  Children encounter big and small problems every day. Problem solving is a lifelong skill that children need in order to be able to make good decisions and cope with difficult situations.


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