Good problem solving skills are the foundation for healthy relationships and successful school and work experiences. There are two important aspects of helping your child learn to become an effective proble-solver: Teaching them the steps to problem solving, and teaching them when and how to use the steps. The skills involved in problem solving can be broken down into the following four basic steps:
Problem Solving Steps:
Step 1: What is the problem? We must recognize that there is a problem and identify what the problem is before we can do anything to solve it!
Step 2: What are some possible solutions? For each solution ask Is it safe? Is it Fair? Will it work? How might other people feel about it? The answers to these questions will help determine the best possible solutions.
Step 3: Choose a solution and use it! Pick one of the best solutions and try it out.
Step 4: Is it working? If not, what can I do now? Try something different… maybe one of the other solutions would work better!
Sometimes there is an extra step that is helpful to use before the first step: Calm Down! If necessary, the calm down step involves taking five deep breaths, counting slowly to ten, or taking a moment to do whatever is needed to calm down so that you can think clearly and seek a good solution. As parents, we have strategies to calm ourselves down in stressful or frustrating moments. For children, sometimes a time out can help them calm down and regroup so they are reading for problem solving. [More about using time out]
Teaching Your Child to Use the Problem Solving Steps:
1. Introduce the Steps: The best time to introduce these problem solving steps to your child is at any time other than when they are in the middle of a problem-related MASSIVE MELTDOWN! Take a few moments to sit down with your child and share these problem solving steps when there are no problems on the horizon and when nobody is feeling frustrated. Tell your child that your family is going to start practicing using the steps when there is a problem.
2. Model the Steps: Start using the problem solving steps yourself for every day problems that you encounter. When your child is around, talk out loud as you go through each step so he or she can see and hear you using the steps to solve problems effectively. It’s also a very valuable learning experience when your child sees that a solution you use does NOT work. This gives them the opportunity to see that the first solution you try does not always work, and it allows you to model the process of going back and trying a different solution rather than giving up.
3. Remind Your Child to Use the Steps: When the opportunity arises and your child runs into some type of problem, say something along the lines of “This seems like a problem. Let’s use the problem solving steps”. You can then restate the problem for your child and ask him or her to think of ideas for a solution. It can be fun to explore the most WILD of solutions together, just be sure to ask all the right questions to evaluate whether or not the solution is a good one! Guide your child through the problem solving process by helping him or her follow all the steps until a workable solution is found.
4. Become Your Child’s Cheerleader: Praise them when they solve a problem successfully, praise them for TRYING to find an effective solution, praise them for not crying or not giving up if these are steps in the right direction! Notice when they use the steps independently and compliment them on it. Be as positive and encouraging as possible and TELL them that they are becoming such a good problem solver! The more they hear those words from you the more they will think of themselves as capable of solving problems independently and the more they will do it!
These problem solving steps can be used for practical problems like how to get a toy that fell behind the dresser to social problems such as how to share one toy between two friends! It can even be used when your child is not being cooperative: “You want to play, but I need you to get to bed so you’re not cranky in the morning. This is a problem, what are we going to do?” The more you problem solve together now, the better equiped your child will be to solve problems independently as he or she grows up!