All parents worry about the idea of their children navigating the world on their own. And, nowadays, you probably have a harder time teaching your kids how to solve problems effectively. It can be difficult to build problem-solving skills in your child when there is little opportunity for her to struggle or practice independent play.
In prior generations, children were all over the neighborhood playing (without parents). In doing so, they learned about how to interact with others and figure things out. Now, information is available at the push of a button. However, kids still don’t have much practice putting their judgment to use.
After all, rather than sending them out into the world to play with other kids and learn how to deal with conflict, most scheduled playdates are monitored meetings. That means your child ends up looking to you to solve all her problems. This is fine if it involves opening a sippy cup or taking legos apart, but not so much when it comes to working on interpersonal skills.
With this in mind, here are four ways to build problem-solving skills in your child.
Don’t always give them the answer!
This seems so obvious, but with most of us fielding about 300 questions a day from our kids (288 to be exact!), it’s easy to fall into the call and response mode.
Don’t do it!
Instead, answer that “Why is the sky blue?” with a “What do you think?” and follow up with “Why do you think that?”
When you ask questions instead of instantly answering theirs, you’re encouraging them to think on a subject rather than wait for mommy or daddy Google to respond.
Ask guided open-ended questions.
When working through his lockbox games, it’s not uncommon for my son to become stumped at a particular puzzle. He’s usually using an old method of thinking for a puzzle that’s been changed slightly to challenge his critical thinking skills.
This is the time to ask him “What do you see?,” “How did you come to that answer? or “What could you do differently?”
Similar to the “Socratic method” touted in law schools, you want to use questions to guide your child to the right answer rather than giving him or her the easy way out. You build problem-solving skills by asking your child more questions than giving answers.
Let your kids fail.
This one is probably the toughest, but I want my kid to feel the pain of failure in order to motivate him to try harder next time. That means denying him his reward if I have to solve a problem for him that he could have solved on his own.
There have been times our son has gotten frustrated while playing our Learning LockBox games and said, “I give up.”
At that point, I DON’T rush over to him and show him how to do it. Instead, I say, “I’m bummed that you don’t want to take on this challenge, but if you want to stop, you can. Let me know when you want to give it a try again.” I then start putting the game away.
That’s when the feeling of failure sets in. And even for 5-year-olds, it doesn’t feel good.
Usually, after less than a minute, he is back at it.
When he shows me he is willing to try, I will step in and ask him guided questions to help him arrive at the answer himself.
By doing this, your child will soon learn that you are not going to simply give him the answer. He will figure out that if he wants to get feel the success of finishing, he must work through tough challenges. Ultimately, this increases his intrinsic motivation because he must work hard to earn the reward (instead of the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality). Your child will feel so much more successful and confident when he overcomes a difficult challenge on his own.
I guarantee you that your child will start to think about things more before asking for you to solve his problems if he has some skin in the game.
Don’t be a “helicopter” (or worse, a “lawnmower” or “snowplow”) parent.
Are you a lawnmower parent who “mows down a child’s challenges and struggles?” If you pack your kid’s lunch, pick out his clothes, schedule his playdates, spend your time dutifully watching the playground to be sure everyone gets a turn on the slide, or pay William Singer to get your child into USC, then you’re part of the problem.
Guess what, you can’t be there handling problems for your kids forever.
If you fix everything for them as kids, they’re never going to figure out how to resolve conflicts on their own.
Back off with the knowledge that universal karma will straighten things out in the end. If not, your child now knows what it’s like to deal with a jerk so they’ll have that to fall back on in the future when they meet a whole pile of them!
In the end, it is very important NOT to handle all of your child’s problems or simply serve as his or her personal “Alexa” for all the answers. The toughest part as a parent is fostering those little daily struggles that our child can overcome in order to feel a sense of achievement.
But, no one ever said parenting was easy, so get to work!
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