5 Ways to Help Your Child Be a Problem Solver

5 Ways to Help Your Child Be a Problem Solver

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One of the most difficult things as a parent is to watch our child struggle. Whodoesn’t want to step in and intervene whenproblems arise?

At the same time, letting children solve their own problems is crucial. Children who learn to face (and overcome) challenges gainconfidence,resilience andself-esteem. They believe they can tackle whatever comes their way.


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So how do we balance our desire to help with not helpingtoo much? The key is making certain your child feelssupported in the process. 

“When children have the support to get up and try again, they learn they can survive adversity and come out okay.”
-Dr. Laura Markham

Teaching your child to solve problems can be challenging, but it’s well worth the effort. These5 simple strategies will help your child solve problems independently, and feel safe and supported at the same time!

5 Ways to Help Your Child Be a Problem Solver

1. Encourage Free Play

Playing offers your child tons of problem-solving opportunities. Finding a lost toy, choosing someone to play with, deciding who gets to go first--these are all moments of practice.

Unstructured play, or free play, isespecially impactful. Without set guidelines, children have the freedom to create, discover, and establish their own rules.

While free play has been on the decline in recent years, there’s stillplenty you can do to encourage it in your child.

Consider these fun, unstructured ideas:

  • Creative play (crafting, drawing, painting, sewing
  • Imaginative games (dress-up, building forts, pretending to be a superhero)
  • Outdoor play (star gazing, bug collecting, climbing playground equipment)

Scale back on structured activities to make time for it and don’t be afraid to let your child getbored! Boredom makes space for creativity and imagination. When your child complains there’s nothing to do, recognize it as a source of inspiration.

Encourage Free Play

2. Teach flexible thinking

Many children struggle with rigid, inflexible thinking. If your child has difficulty going with the flow, taking another’s perspective, or shifting their attention, they are not alone!

Building cognitive flexibility begins early. When children know there are choices and options from a young age, they begin to see all the possibilities.

You can start with:

  • changing the daily routine in a small way (“Do you want to take a bath before or after dinner?”)
  • using “flexible” language (“Let’s see if we can try this another way”)
  • brainstorm options for as many things as possible (pizza toppings, ways to travel, ice cream flavors, or paint colors)
  • decide on a new rule for a favorite family game

Children learn best when they seeus thinking flexibly too. The next time something doesn’t go as planned, voice your thought process (“I planned to make burgers tonight, but I forgot to get the ingredients. I’ll beflexible and order pizza instead!”)

Teach flexible thinking

3. Celebrate failure

Children who fear making mistakes orfailing are less likely to tackle their own problems. They would rather not try than risk embarrassment, or a negative outcome. 

As parents, it’s critical our definition of success includes failure and mistakes. Talk with your child about how mistakes prime ourbrains for learning. Give them an opportunity to boast about their mistakes and how they overcame them (and do the same with yours)!

Other ways to embrace failure include:

  • Encourage your child to do something challenging everyday
  • Ask, “How did you fail today? What did you learn from it?”
  • Give them a high-five when they make a mistake (“Yeah! You’re learning!”)
  • Listen toThe Big Life Kids Podcast episode,How to Turn Failures into Robots which also coordinates with the Big Life Journal-2nd Edition

 

Finally, discuss how failingoften happens when we work hard and practice a lot. After all, we can’t fail if we don’t put ourselves out there and try!

“If you haven’t yet experienced some measure of failure in whatever you’re passionate about, you might not be trying as hard as you need to be in orderto experience the success you’re chasing.”
-Jill Winger, parenting writer

The Big Life Kids Podcast

4. Don’t rush in

It’s easy to fall into the trap of fixing our child’s problems. After all, shielding them from struggle is a natural urge. And sometimes it’s just so mucheasier to do it ourselves.

“I had to stop equating the act of doing things for my children with good parenting.
-Jessica Lahey, The Gift of Failure

 

But intervening too quickly robs our child of the chance to gainconfidence in their abilities. It can also make the problem seem much bigger than it is.
The next time you’re tempted to immediately solve your child’s issue, choose a different strategy. Often, they just need to hear the message they’recapable. Statements like, “That’s a problem you can solve” are a good place to start. 

Also consider:

  • Encouraging your child to “Try 3 Before Me” (choosing any 3 of the following options:asking a friend, looking around to see what others are doing, stopping and thinking, coming back to the problem later)
  • Asking the following questions: “If you HAD to solve this all by yourself, what would you do? Who could you ask for help if it didn’t work out?”
  • Say, “I can’t wait to see how you solve this!” or “I’m excited to see what you come up with!”
  • Ask, “What have you already tried?” and praise their attempts

It’s also key to differentiate between “kid problems” and “adult problems.” Make a list with your child of issues aparent shouldalways help solve: when someone’s hurt, in danger, or there’s a safety issue.

Try 3 Before Me

5. Practice mindfulness

Studies show thatmindfulness promotes problem-solving. When we learn to quiet down, the answer often becomes obvious.

“Problem solving isn’t about overthinking something to figure it out. It’s about being present with what is, knowing that what you need to solve the problem will come forward from within.”
-Alexandra Chordas

It’s easy for children (and adults) to get lost in a problem, or try and “think” our way out. And sitting with uncomfortablefeelings is difficult for everyone. 

Mindfulness practice helps us acceptwhat is--without adding to it, or trying to escape. When we pause, we’re less likely toreact in ways that create an evenbigger problem (like yelling or using unkind words).

Simple ways to practice include:

  • Take a listening walk together and count the sounds you hear (or find every color of therainbow)
  • Readstories like “My Magic Breath” by Nick Ortner and Alison Taylor, “I Am Peace“ by Susan Verde, and “A Little Peaceful Spot” by Diane Alber and discuss how mindfulness helps each character solve their problems
  • Praise your child for pausing or taking a deep breath before reacting to a challenge

Looking for fun and creative mindfulness activities?  Take a look at ourGratitude & Mindfulness Kit which includes the popularMy Mindfulness BingoandMindful Brain Breaks printables.

Gratitude & Mindfulness Kit

Modeling mindfulness for your child is also key. The next time you face a problem, calmly verbalize your feelings about it. Point out how you’re pausing before responding to an upsetting work email, unkind comment from a friend, or any other challenge that arises.

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