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How can I teach my child problem-solving skills?

baby boy an father playing with toy cars

Key points:

  1. Children of all ages face problems and challenges.
  2. Teaching problem-solving involves four roles: observer, supporter, facilitator, and model.
  3. Encourage balanced and realistic language when discussing problems with your child.
  4. Help your child identify problems, come up with alternative solutions, and test them to build confidence and competence.

Whether it is a homework assignment, a toy-related problem, a sibling argument, or friend trouble; children of all ages face problems. Something as simple as not having their favorite color playdough can become a challenge for your little one. Since it’s impossible for you to always solve your child’s troubles, they need to learn how to do it by themselves; luckily, they have the best teacher!

As you begin teaching your child how to solve problems on their own, think that you have four roles: observer, supporter, facilitator, and model. Observe their way of playing and approaching a challenge before intervening. Provide verbal support and validation. Facilitate specific actions encouraging them to think of different solutions. Model by example how you approach problems as well.


Over time you’ll see that your child’s confidence and independence grow. You’ll see they manage their emotions, thinks creatively, demonstrate cognitive flexibility towards a situation, and expand their mindset.

It all starts with a thought and a thought can always be changed. It’s not the person or situation that makes us feel a certain way, but rather our way of thinking about it. Children often use extreme language as they first encounter a problem. “No one wants to play with me” might be your child’s response when a friend doesn’t want to play with them. Try to teach them a more balanced way of viewing the problem by referring to the situation in a gentler and more realistic language. “I know you are upset, but lots of people want to play with you: mom, dad, grandma”. It’s important to validate them, let them process their emotions, and teach them coping mechanisms because, even though your child might be using dramatic language, some part of them feels that way. “I understand you are upset. I know it’s hard and that’s okay. You are working hard on this, aren’t you? Show me the part you are having trouble with”.

Help them come up with an accurate statement to identify the problem. “Your friend doesn’t want to play catch with you right now”. Help them come up with actions they can do to find alternative outcomes to the situation. 1) How about you ask your friend what they want to play? Can you play that first and then catch? 2) How about you go ask another friend if they want to play? 3) How about we introduce ourselves to those kids over there and see if they want to play? 4) How about you and I play catch?

Come up with different alternatives to approach the problem, pick one, and test it out. It’s not the outcome that’s important, but the way you are teaching your little one to address a problem or challenge. Using realistic language, coming up with specific actions, and testing them will provide your kid with a feeling of confidence and competence, expand their way of thinking, and change the course of their thoughts. This will foster skills like judgement, planning, anticipation, and, ultimately, mental flexibility when approaching a problem.

It’s important to provide opportunities for your child to practice solving problems. Try to come up with simple scenarios at home where a challenge may arise. Depending on your child’s developmental level, make sure a solution is available for them to find. Little by little and with practice you’ll teach your child how to solve problems on their own.

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