Teach your kids to problem solve

Why did I research this?

It is school holidays and we love the time together but some moments a little less than others.  I’m picturing me in the kitchen trying to prep food to meet the taste and dietary requirements of all. I’m saying this to myself :

“Chopping again?! Oh yes, remind yourself Sarah, that one of your values is healthy eating and this is why you have chosen to prep healthy food for your children.  I love that we have food…(etc, etc).” My thoughts are interrupted by a dispute that has erupted.

“Noooooo!  I had it first.  GIVE IT BACK!” My two year old shouts and a dispute is on.

Yes, children need to fight and this is how they learn social skills and this would be quite fine if it was one of a few conflicts per day but multiply this by 10, before I have brushed my teeth, with increasingly high pitch, tears and volume and I am wanting to plan an escape, even if this includes wandering off to the washing line for some time out.

The truth is, I could try and “hang out washing”, “check the letterbox” or dry my already dry hair with a very loud hair dryer but the children would come and find me. I could also hurry everyone off to the next great outdoor adventure but let’s face it, the conflict may join us and there comes a point when I need to address my response to conflict as well as theirs.

What did I find out?

  • Waiting gives children the chance to find their own solutions to their problems.
  • Parents (as well as teachers, caregivers or others) can teach children how to think by offering ideas when a child asks for help.
  • Children learn to think by thinking and not being told what to do. I can model this thinking by waiting for my child to ask me for help (unless harm has been done) and then offering some ideas for my child to choose from.
  • Giving more ideas to a child to solve social problems will better my children’s social adjustment.
  • The capacity for effective problem solving is critical for resiliency.

Why is this useful?

  • Knowing there is benefit in waiting may help you to think twice before jumping in to solve the problem.
  • By giving ideas to your children’s problems, you are helping your child learn how to make good decisions.
  • Every problem your child encounters about sharing toys, exclusion, waiting or name-calling is an opportunity for them to practice thinking and problem solving (with your modelling and guidance).
  • Good problem-solving skills help young people to think abstractly, reflectively and flexibly.
  • Your children will feel good about coming up with a range of alternative solutions to their problems and no doubt you will feel calmer as your children feel able to choose between their choices with confidence.

~ SM

Shure M.B & Spivack. G. (1978). Problem-solving techniques in childrearing. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Promoting Resiliency and Wellbeing (2005) Retrieved from


Resiliency Problem Solving (n.d). Retrieved from
http://www.embracethefuture.org.au/resiliency/ problem_solving.htm