Problem Solving is an essential life skill that every parent should teach their kids. This skill empowers children to be independent and not run to their parents for every little challenge (like sharing a toy or math homework!) they face.
Why Teach Problem Solving to Kids?
A study published in 2018 shows positive relationship between problem solving skills in students and innovative behaviour.
From tech innovators like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk to visionary leaders like John F Kennedy, Nelson Mandela – one common trait that stands out is that they are all problem solvers.
Problem Solving for kids is the tool they would need for the unfathomable future full of uncertainty. We can’t bet what skills are going to be of value but we are certain that problem solving is never going to run out of style.
How To Teach Problem Solving Skills to Kids?
With the right knowledge, you can teach problem solving skill to your children. Teaching your children problem solving from early years will give them ample time to master the skill, so, by the time they reach adulthood, they are all equipped to handle the curve ball life throws at them.
To teach your child how to solve a problem, you first need to delve into their hearts and minds before you address the problem itself. Here is a step-wise approach you need to follow to teach your kids the art of problem solving.
1. Identify the Emotion
Before you teach your child to problem solve critically, you must address the emotions that problem evokes in your child. How does the problem make your child feel? Do they feel scared or overwhelmed?
Their emotional response to the problem is your first step towards teaching them problem solving. Say for instance if a particular problem makes your child feel inapt, you need to start with building self-confidence in your child.
Similarly, if a problem makes your child angry, you need to start from calming strategies to help them problem-solve.
Humans are emotional creatures and children more so. You need to train them to manage their emotions before you teach problem solving to kids.
This is the foremost step to problem solving. Teach your child to gain their composure and calm before trying to find solution to the problem.
Related: Read How Design Thinking Process also relies of emotion to build creative solutions.
Deep breathing techniques are great at regaining control over emotions. One simple breathing technique is to backward count to one from ten, taking deep breaths with every number.
Once your child regained control over his/her emotions, proceed to the next step of problem solving that is, analyzing what exactly is the pain-point.
2. Analyse the Pain Point
Every problem has a ‘hard’ part – the part that invokes and plays on your emotions. But once your child has mastered control over emotions, it is easier to see that difficult part.
Help your child identify the pain-point and what it is about the pain point that is tricky. This step is significant in teaching problem solving to kids, for every problem presents a unique, different challenge for the doer.
What might be the tricky part of the problem for your child may be an easy part for you. Perspective differs from person to person and that is why individual analysis of the problem is important.
You need to look from your child’s perspective to understand what is troubling them about the situation. Respect your child’s perspective and offer advice accordingly.
3. Look at the Possible Solutions
The next step towards methodological approach to teaching problem solving to kids is to look at the possible solutions to the given problem.
Asking open-ended questions like what could be the solution and how will the given solution help can greatly aid the thinking process of problem solving for kids.
How did the protagonist in the story or movie solve the problem? Can a similar solution be applied to their real problem? And if not, how can they tweak it to make it apt for them.
Such references often help children feel better as they don’t feel the only ones encountering the problem, besides setting an example and forming connections to problem solve effectively.
As a parent, you can site an example from your personal life where you faced a similar situation, how you overcame the problem, what were the consequences you faced and if you think there was a better way to handle the problem.
Sharing your perspective helps as long as you don’t force your thinking on your kids and judge them.
What is critical here is to allow them to let your children think of their own possible solutions. You should act as a guide, a facilitator helping them find answers to their questions but in no way problem solving for your kids.
4. Let Them Try Their Own Solutions
Once your children have come up with their possible solutions, let them try them howsoever absurd or silly they may appear to you.
Your children are more likely to learn from the mistakes they make than you preaching them. Inculcate respect for the process of problem solving by letting them try their solutions and fixing it to make them better.
As parents, it might be difficult for you to see them make mistakes but this is an important life skill they must learn on their own.
Let them fail and tinker with their idea to arrive at the best possible solution. It would be unfair to deny your children of this learning opportunity.
Aid this process of problem solving for kids by asking them relevant questions pertaining to their solution. It might be the case that their solution may solve the problem at hand but in turn create a new problem.
As a parent, you should help them think of these possible outcomes by helping them hypothesize the possible solutions and their outcomes.
Keeping a notepad handy can greatly aid this process of hypothesizing and gauging the outcomes. This helps in thinking and sets them up on a road to clear, logical thinking process.
This lesson in problem solving will stay forever with them and help them problem solve more easily and confidently the next time when faced with a similar situation.
5. Praise and/or Reward Them
Whatever may be the outcome, make sure to praise the process and the effort they have undertaken to solve the problem at hand.
If your child is able to problem solve successfully, nothing like it but if not, appreciate them for the problem solving process they undertook.
This can really make the difference. And then suggest them to solve the problem again after taking a short break.
Building the right attitude towards problem solving is way more important than arriving at the right answers. Sooner or later in life we all encounter problems that test the best of us. Starting children early on this process is a great way to raise problem solvers.
This methodological way of problem solving greatly aids children in looking at a problem. Rather than getting overpowered, they can rely on a roadmap to solve a problem successfully.
When practiced over and over again, this can become your child’s innate nature. And how wonderful it is to raise a child who does not let life’s problems take control over them.
While most of the time these guidelines will work, it is absolutely possible to loose motivation and hope. That’s the time when your children can fall back to exemplary stories of people who struggled and persisted and finally won over their problems.
Books That Teach Kids Problem Solving
A must read for every child to help them cope with day-to-day challenges. Adapted for children, it is a true story of Rosa Parks and her fight against racism.
This beautiful book by Oliver Jeffers will set your little one right on the path of problem solving. Amusing and delightful, this book is a great read for younger children as well.
True to its title, this one delivers a great lesson in problem solving. One of the most sought after book for teaching kids to problem solve, this is a must have.
What better way to teach problem solving on a daily basis! Come and solve the simple yet complex everyday problem this girl encounters in her life. Children are certain to empathize and relate to the protagonist.
This is a wonderful story of a princess and how she outsmarts a dragon. Great for inculcating the right mindset to solving problems.
Better suited for older audience, this beautiful book delivers an important lesson in what it takes to problem solve.
7. The Gruffalo
This wonderful, humorous read delivers a great lesson in problem solving through a little mouse. Our home favourite, this one will deliver far more than you can fathom.
What do you do when your mum is lost? Here is a story that explores this ginormous problem of lost mum through three little Tasmanian devils.