rubiks_cube-svgProblem solving is one of the critical life skills for children to develop, and those skills aren’t developed only with homework problems. Learning to deal with problems and come up with solutions are essential for children to develop resiliency or, as it is sometimes called, grit.

Your child probably already knows how to handle some of this problem solving when they are sufficiently motivated. How often have they run into difficulty playing a video game and kept working at it until they were successful? Remind them about how when Mario encounters a problem, he dusts himself off and keeps going until he finds the princess.

The Problem Solving Process

Problem solving can be broken down into a five-step process that can be used with almost any type of problem. These five steps are:

  1. Identify the Problem: This step may seem obvious, but it can be more difficult than you think. Teach your child to use “I” language to describe the problem. For example, the problem is not, “My teacher is mean,” but “I want to play video games, but I have homework to do.” Help your child define the problem as “I (need/want) ________, but _________.”
  2. Generate Solutions: The key to this step is not to evaluate the solutions, but just to think of as many different ways to solve or address the problem as possible. Encourage your child to think of at least three potential solutions. Children are often inclined to act on the first solution that they think of.
  3. Evaluate Solutions: Once your child has generated three potential solutions, have them find at least one “pro” and one “con” for each one. This may be a difficult process for your child, so explain what pros and cons are with examples. Your child may find it especially difficult to come up with cons if they mainly affect other people or the consequences are long term rather than immediate. A free graphic problem solving chart may help your child with this process.
  4. Choose and Try a Solution: Teach your child how to choose solutions that solve a problem by taking into consideration the time and resources available and the fewest negative effects on themselves or others. Be sure to let them know that we rarely know everything about a problem or a solution, so picking a solutions is a usually a best guess.
  5. Evaluate the Outcome: After your child has chosen a solution, discuss how they will know if the solution is successful. Have them evaluate their solution using the criteria they developed after they have applied it. If the solution didn’t work, remind them that the next step is not “give up” but go back to step 2 and generate new solutions based on what they learned from trying their first choice.

10 Tips to Support Problem Solving

Julie Lythcott-Haims spoke at the 2016 National PTA Convention about her book, How to Raise an Adult, based on her experiences as Stanford University Dean of Freshmen. Many of the issues she noted in her speech stemmed from students being unable to make decisions and solve problems on their own (here’s her TED Talk).

All-Pro Dad, a PTA MORE partner, has ten tips to help support your child in solving problems. Among the tips are:

  • Don’t be a “Helicopter Parent”
  • Encourage creative play
  • Try some Do-It-Yourself projects together
  • Allow children to experience failure

Be sure to check out the full list for more tips and additional information.

Image courtesy Booyabazooka under Creative Commons license.