Young child lies on her back with a thoughtful expression on her face.

Promoting Problem Solving to Raise Independent Kids

As much as we want to support our children in all areas, it is important that we are training them to eventually become independent, productive adults. One way we do this is to teach them how to solve problems for themselves.

The fact of the matter is, the more we do, the less our child does. When we dress them, clean their rooms, open all their containers, find their missing toys, and intervene in all of their conflicts we rob our children of their ability to become confident in their own skills.

This doesn’t mean we let our kids flounder as they “figure it out,” however. Creating good problem solvers requires coaching. Take the following steps early to ensure that you get your little one on the right track to becoming a successful problem solver.

  1. Identify the problem — When your child is showing frustration with something, have them identify the problem. This is a crucial part of the problem solving process, as it requires one to work through their emotions and take the first step toward a solution. You may need to give them a hug or space to calm down a bit before they can verbalize it.
  2. “Show me the difficult part” — Kids aren’t completely helpless. Often there’s a specific thing they’re struggling with that is hindering their progress. It’s not just, “I can’t get dressed”. Specifically, it may be, “I’m having trouble with buttons”. Once you identify the difficult part, you can address it directly.
  3. Model — Initially, your child will need to be shown how to work through their difficulties. After they identify the problem and show you the hard part, explicitly model how to manage it.
  4. Coach — The next time the problem comes up, coach them through it, referencing how you guys solved it the last time. Say things like, “What did we do last time?” or “What’s the next step?”
  5. Use stories — Stories are a great way to demonstrate how rewarding it is when one is able to work through their problems. There’s a plethora of children’s stories that follow a character’s journey as they persevere and eventually achieve success, such as Storypod’s The Adventures of Craftie Fox or Elee & the Shining Star. Make sure to point out the steps the characters took to solve their problems. Say things like, “Do you see how she identified the problem?” or “Look how he never gives up!”
  6. Use imaginative play — Imaginative play is a great way for kids to theoretically practice problem solving skills without being personally invested. Often, emotions can run high when a child is frustrated. When modeling the same problems in play, they can look at the issue objectively and offer solutions. Use dolls, Legos, or action figures and subtly recreate a problem your child has had previously, (this is especially helpful with social conflicts). Observe how your child solves the dilemma. Imaginative play can give great insight into your child’s thought process.

Be patient as your little one builds this skill. It takes practice and plenty of trial and error. Encourage them and let them know that feelings of frustration are normal. Explain that the most important thing is to persevere, trust their abilities, and know that you’re always there to support them.