As parents, we want our children to grow up to be successful problem-solvers. However, teaching problem-solving skills can be challenging. It is essential to teach children to recognise and manage their emotions, take responsibility for the problem, brainstorm solutions, consider the consequences, and keep trying until they solve the problem. Here are five steps parents can use to teach problem-solving to children.

Step 1: Help your child understand their emotions

Encourage them to notice and name their emotions to diffuse their intensity. Assure them that all emotions are acceptable and no “bad” emotions exist. Guide your child to a calming space to process their emotions so that they can problem-solve, learn, and grow. Click here to download a free feelings word list.

Step 2: Help your child to formulate the problem

Listen carefully and paraphrase back what they said, reflecting their emotions. This will help them feel heard and understood. Encourage them to take responsibility for the problem instead of blaming others. 

Step 3: Brainstorm solutions

Encourage your child to come up with as many solutions as possible. Write them down, even if they are not “good” solutions. Say, “What are some things you can do to fix this?” If they need more help, offer support and help them brainstorm ideas.

Step 4: Consider the consequences

Encourage your kid to consider both the positive and negative consequences of their actions: “What would happen if you tried these solutions?”, “Is this solution safe and fair?”, “How would it make others feel?”, “How would it affect someone else?”.  Ask, “What do you think will happen next?” “What do you think will happen if…” 

Step 5: Try a solution

Review the solutions in Step 3. Your child should be encouraged to try one or more solutions. If the solution doesn’t work, return to the list and try a different one. As a result of their experience, they gained valuable information that they could apply to a new scenario. Keep encouraging your child to try until the problem is resolved. Inquire, “What have you learned?” What was easy? What was difficult? What would you do differently next time?”

Teaching Problem-Solving Strategies by Age Group

It’s important to adapt problem-solving strategies based on the child’s age. Here are some strategies to teach problem-solving by age group:

For children ages 3-5:

  • Help children identify emotions and practice calming techniques to manage emotional reactions.
  • Encourage children to describe the problem in their own words.
  • Help children generate a list of possible solutions and encourage them to evaluate the pros and cons of each solution.
  • Use role-playing and games to help children practice problem-solving skills.

For children ages 5-7:

  • Encourage children to take ownership of the problem-solving process by asking open-ended questions and allowing children to brainstorm solutions independently.
  • Help children evaluate the effectiveness of their solutions and identify areas for improvement.
  • Encourage children to ask for help when needed and to collaborate with others to solve problems.
  • Use games and activities that require problem-solving skills to teach children how to apply problem-solving skills in different contexts.

For children ages 7-9:

  • Encourage children to identify the root cause of the problem and to consider the perspectives of all parties involved.
  • Help children develop a plan of action and identify potential obstacles and strategies for overcoming them.
  • Encourage children to reflect on their problem-solving process and to identify areas for improvement.
  • Use real-world scenarios to help children practice problem-solving skills in context.

By incorporating these age-appropriate strategies, parents can help their children develop the problem-solving skills they need to succeed in school and in life.