Encouraging Problem Solving

It is really easy just to jump in and try help your child when you see them struggling with a problem. Perhaps it is opening the peanut butter jar, or perhaps it is working out how to get toothpaste onto their toothbrush. Especially when we are in a hurry, it is easy to interfere with the problem solving process and quickly do it for your child.


  • Encouraging problem solving skills in children is about standing back and letting them figure it out for themselves. As hard as it may seem, it is better not to jump in and fix the problem. Your child may struggle at first and even make mistakes, but this is the process of learning. Jumping in to play Mr fix-it also implies that you don’t trust their ability to work it out for themselves. Whereas standing back and giving them the space to work it out often sends the message that you believe in their ability to problem solve.
  • When we see our children struggling and getting frustrated, we want to remove their frustration. Allowing them the space to feel frustrated and deal with the feelings also encourages their ability to problem solve their own feelings. Learning to cope with negative emotions such as anger and frustration are just as important as children learn to navigate their way through the world.
  • Allowing our children the space to work it out for themselves, also gives them the opportunity to get creative with ideas and solutions to the problem. Afterall – there isn’t only one way to solve a problem and when parents jump in and fix things they often impose their own views on things and dampen their child’s creativity in the problem solving process.
  • Most of us are focussed on the end results and, so too, are our children. Try to encourage focus on the attempt or process of solving the problem. Help your child feel understood by empathising with the struggle they are experiencing and praising the effort that has gone into solving the problem. Even if they don’t manage a positive outcome, the attempt at solving the problem needs to be the focus of attention.
  • Often we don’t manage to get it right first time. This is also an important part of growing up – learning to learn from our mistakes. Again, instead of jumping in and doing it for your child, encourage them to reassess the problem and think of new ways in which to solve it. You can always guide the brainstorming process and suggest ways to solve the problem, but try not to do it for your child.
  • Remember, at this point, that timing is everything and attempting problem solving after a long day at school may not be the best time to encourage the process. Rather wait till your child is rested and energetic. Enthusiastic children often have a better outcome than those that are tired and irritable.
  • Last, but not least, encourage your child to make use of their support network. Suggest that they ask others for help on providing suggestions on how to solve the issue if they are not managing with it alone. In this sense, you teach your child that it is ok to ask for help sometimes and help them create a support network of family members, friends and even teachers.

Teaching lifelong skills such as problem solving takes alot of patience and alot more time than simply doing the task or activity for them. Though, the more time and effort you put into this now, the sooner you will see the benefits and rewards of it coming through in your child’s behaviours and increased independence (and reduced reliance on you – something many parents long for). So when you are trying to encourage problem solving on an activity, be sure to allow alot more time than it would normally take to complete the task with you leading it so you don’t become frustrated or rush the child with any of the approaches above.