4 Tips for Raising Problem-Solvers

Image via Katie Hurley

Even when they’re very young, kids encounter a variety of problems each day.  Sometimes a toy doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, sometimes a shoe just doesn’t seem to fit, and sometimes other kids grab, push, or yell without warning.

Kids are not born with an internal toolbox of strategies to fit every problem along the way; they have to learn how to solve problems as those problems arise.

On any given day, kids are likely to face problems with academics, peers, family, sports, and even playtime.  Problems, it seems, are just a part of life.

Problem-solving skills are crucial for young children.  Kids are prone to frustration, and frustration can lead to giving up on a difficult task.  Kids are not born with an internal toolbox of strategies to fit every problem along the way; they have to learn how to solve problems as those problems arise.

When children lack problem-solving skills, they might resist trying new things to resolve the issue.  Instead of working out a peer conflict, for instance, they are likely to just avoid that particular friend in the future.  They also might not recognize that they have choices when it comes to solving a problem. 

Parents need to empower children to learn to solve problems independently.

Tips for raising problem-solvers:

Portrait of the little girl putting on her own sandals
Image via iStock

Promote independence:

It’s difficult to raise independent problem-solvers when kids are not given enough independence to make their own decisions.  Sure, parents are in charge.  But there are plenty of tasks that children can (and should) do, even in preschool.

Wardrobe choice is always a great place to start.  Unless it’s a special occasion, empower your children to get dressed independently each morning.  Pants on backwards?  Loud, mismatched prints?  No problem.  Let them be and watch them take pride in their ability to make choices. 

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Give your kids age appropriate tasks around the house.  Sorting laundry, clearing tables, and putting toys in appropriate baskets are a great place to start.  As your kids grow, teach them to make their beds, put away their laundry, and set the table.

Let your kids have some say in the dinner menu once a week, and be sure to let them help out in the kitchen.  All of these small tasks help children internalize a very important message – they are capable. 

Image via Flickr/ Horia Varlan

Teach Stop, Think, and Act:

Young children are prone to impulsive decision-making.  In the heat of the moment, they tend to act without considering the options.

Teach your kids to approach problem-solving like a stoplight.  On the red light, they should stop what they’re doing and take three deep breaths.  On the yellow, they should consider possible solutions to the problem.  And on the green, they should pick the best option and move forward.

By elementary school, kids begin to learn the art of brainstorming to help the creative writing process, but this process can come in handy at a much younger age when it comes to problem-solving skills.

Use a whiteboard to help your child brainstorm ideas when a problem arises at home.  Ask them to think of a few, add a few of your own, and discuss the pros and cons of each option.

Image via Flickr/ gagilas

Listen to their ideas:

Avoid the temptation to jump in and solve every problem for your child.  It’s sad when kids become frustrated and cry, but if we constantly solve their problems for them they won’t learn to work through these frustrating moments independently.

Soothe your child through the frustration and then begin the problem-solving process.  Listen to their ideas and ask follow up questions.  Let them choose which strategy they want to try, even if you’re certain that it won’t work.  Trial and error is part of the problem-solving process.  We learn just as much from our failures as we do from our successes.  

Image via Flickr/ JMCostanza


Practice is always the best way to help kids improve their problem-solving skills.  Think of age appropriate problems that your child might encounter throughout the week and take turns solving those problems.  This gives you the opportunity to model staying calm and making thoughtful choices, and it gives your child the opportunity to think things through in a calm environment. 

{ MORE: 5 Tips for Teaching Gratitude }

Has your child begun learning to problem-solve? 

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What do you think?

4 Tips for Raising Problem-Solvers

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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  1. Deborah says:

    this is a great way to teach your baby thank’s

  2. Alanna says:

    I love the stoplight approach.

  3. Destiny says:

    I love this! I can’t wait to try some of these tips out when I have my baby!

  4. mommy nhoj says:

    I believe my 9-month old baby starts to learn problem solving by making her way to get her toy or the object she wants to get hold of. She also started to find the hidden ones. We let her explore some ways to enjoy her playtime while quietly watching over what she’s doing. I am excited to use the above tips in due time. The stop-look-listen act thing might also work for mommy sometimes 🙂


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