Teach your child to become a confident problem solver
Imagine walking into a room and seeing a giant pile of LEGO bricks on a play mat. One person might start putting the bricks back into their box a handful at a time. Another may scoop them into the middle of the mat, pick up all the corners and pour them into the box in one go. Whichever approach you take, your actions are a result of the problem solving process.
The importance of becoming a confident problem solver is obvious – most of what we do during the day has an element of problem solving involved, from the very basic to the complex, and those that are comfortable and confident with their problem solving skills will be better able to face the challenges life throws at them.
Melissa Hood, founder of the Parent Practice, explains problem solving is a process we start to learn from very early on, saying even learning to walk is an exercise in problem solving. “There are different types of problem solving. Some are task based, such as figuring out how to get a block from room A to room B, others may be more socially based; for example, resolving a conflict with a friend.”
The process is essentially the same however. Simplistically speaking, it involves seeing the problem, brainstorming possible solutions and choosing the preferred course of action. This obviously becomes more or less involved depending on the complexity of the issue – seeing the problem could also involve assessing the severity and ramifications of the problem at hand. Brainstorming could involve researching solutions, asking others for more information, weighing up potential reactions to the proposed solutions. Choosing a course of action should also include critiquing what did and didn’t work when the chosen solution is employed.
What works to build their confidence and skills?
As hard as it can be for a parent, Melissa says we need to be OK with our kids struggling and failing to really let them become confident problem solvers. “Certainly it feels counter intuitive to do so, but realistically, kids need to practice their problem solving skills in order for them to develop. The trick is finding the middle road between letting them take dangerous risks and doing everything for them.”
Melissa says a common technique they teach parents is the Chat Through. “Before a child starts a task, or to solve a problem, ask them guided questions and allow them to answer. Giving them prompts when they are overlooking an important part of the problem is fine – just make sure you phrase the prompt as an open ended question and allow them a chance to respond.”
This approach allows you to guide your kids through the process, teaching them to explore the variables before taking a course of action, without allowing them to come to harm or risking a constant sense of failure. “While it is important kids learn not to fear failure, and that it is more valuable to try than have a parent do everything for you so it’s done perfectly; it is also important they don’t consistently fail, as this can lead to a lack of confidence,” says Melissa.
Validation of their feelings also helps build confidence in their problem solving skills. “For example, if your son was feeling left out from his peer group, you could help him name the feelings he’s having – ‘oh, you are probably feeling a bit left out and sad right now, that’s not a nice feeling.’ This can help them release the feeling, and then be better able to focus on practical ways to solve the problem.
Here’s what you can do to help
Next time you are thinking about taking over from a job or a situation they are struggling with, Melissa recommends you:
- avoid answering a lot of questions but instead direct them to where they can find the answer, while applauding the interesting question
- ask your child what they should be doing rather than nagging them
- write down rules and routines so they get used to taking responsibility for their own tasks
- acknowledge your child for thinking for themselves, for signs of creativity, for problem-solving skills and for resilience and perseverance.
Shielding our kids from hard knocks may seem the caring approach, but the problem with it is your children ultimately lose the opportunity to learn how to create solutions. Failure is also a learning exercise (and it is an important life skill to not fear failure, as it inhibits us from trying anything).
In the words of Mr Edison, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
This article was written by Melanie Hearse for Kidspot, New Zealand's most comprehensive parenting resource.