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November 6, 2019

Independent Living: Encourage Problem-Solving Skills in Children

Introducing problem-solving strategies can improve your child’s quality of life

The ability to solve problems is critical to living a peaceful, empowered, and productive life. Whether it involves a challenging question, a social conflict, or one of life’s bigger obstacles, people of all ages and walks of life struggle with various issues on a daily basis.

As an adult, the instinct is often to step in and solve any issues that your child may face. However, teaching your child problem-solving skills and encouraging perseverance are among the most valuable and enduring qualities you can try to bestow upon them.

The ability to combine critical thinking, tenacity, and problem-solving skills to overcome obstacles can lead to more success, confidence, and independence in life. Make a lasting impact on your child’s future by teaching them how to develop problem-solving skills.

Teaching solutions

The correlation between problem-solving skills and greater ease in life is obvious, but the benefits may reach beyond simple stress reduction. A 2010 study of 439 teenagers indicated that a lack of healthy problem-solving strategies could lead to an increased chance of depression or suicide in adolescents. Helping your child learn how to solve problems independently can lead to better mental health and overall satisfaction in life.

Although all children tend to explore and investigate their environment to overcome obstacles, teaching your child strategies for solving problems can improve their self-esteem and increase their willingness to try new activities.

Your child’s ability to use creativity and critical thinking to solve problems is largely dependent on their developmental phase and cognitive capabilities. Consider the following timeline for how to coach your child to develop problem-solving skills.

Birth to 3 years old

The best way to help your baby or toddler learn to solve problems is to give them space and support to do so. Young children learn through experimentation. Let your child try to fix small issues themselves, and offer verbal guidance instead of intervention. Stacking toys, shape sorters, blocks, and balls are all age-appropriate activities that offer opportunities to learn through play.

As your child nears preschool age, let them practice new skills by giving them small responsibilities, such as setting the table or putting on their own coat. Trying new things challenges children to find solutions.

3 to 5 years old

A large part of solving problems is understanding the emotions you’re experiencing. Young children experience intense feelings, but they don’t have the experience or vocabulary to identify and express those feelings yet. Teach your child about emotions and start a dialog about how to appropriately manage their feelings.

Try reading books together and discussing the emotions and experiences of the characters, or engage in pretend play to open up opportunities to practice problem-solving in a safe space.

5 to 10 years old

Problem-solving is a multi-step process. Teach your child to identify the problem, brainstorm solutions, evaluate the consequences, and then choose the best option available to them. Encourage this strategy by asking open-ended questions to help guide your child through the steps.

Toys that involve building or creating and spending time outside playing with peers both allow children to practice finding solutions without adult help.

10 years old and up

Provide opportunities for your child to practice solving problems by presenting them with scenarios that require unique solutions. Organizations like Odyssey of the Mind encourage critical thinking and resilience to solve a variety of problems. Getting involved in sports is another valuable way to practice overcoming obstacles and navigating conflict.

Also, work to create an ongoing dialog in your family that supports independence. For example, if your child asks you to purchase a big-ticket item, ask how they could earn the money themselves. Help older children brainstorm ideas or work together to write down a plan that could act as a guide to achieving their goals.

Teaching your child to develop problem-solving skills requires a fine balance of acknowledging feelings, encouraging independence, offering opportunities, and providing gentle guidance without directly intervening.

It can be difficult to see your child struggle, but watching as they incorporate the skills learned from these challenges to succeed in other areas of life will be its own reward. Set your child up for success and feel confident about their future by teaching them how to solve problems independently.

Lumiere Children’s Therapy is a full-service, multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago that serves the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Learn more about how our team of clinicians works to improve the lives of children and their families.

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