Let’s Talk Problem Solving

We all want our kids to be good problem solvers. It’s kind of integral to adulting. A necessary skill. We’re all on the same page. Problem solvers are creative, mature, successful, contribute to society, are self-sufficient.


Then why do we spend so much our day and parenting energy trying to foresee any problems and solve them before they present themselves. Picture this: my whiny guy is fresh out of bed after a (hopefully, long) afternoon nap. I’m guessing he’s ready for a snack, our usual routine, which will help him wake up. I plop him in his high chair with a granola bar in front of him, and he promptly digs in. I can just imagine that the grainy bar will make him thirsty, and to avoid the almost-certain eardrum-grating whine, “I’m thiiiiirsty,” I trek through the kitchen, dining room, and living room looking for his water bottle which he toted around and left somewhere before nap time.

Rewind. In the effort to divert and avoid, I’ve missed a perfectly good opportunity to teach my little guy to recognize and solve his own problems. What if, when he whines about being thirsty, I simply asked, “What are you going to do about it?” One of two outcomes, probably. One, he might break down in post-nap grouchiness resulting a full-out tantrum. Ugh. That’s why I bothered to solve his problem before it even presented itself. Or, maybe, just maybe, he could be coaxed to get down and go look for his water, maybe even find it and get the little feel-good-feeling from having accomplished something.

Recently I’ve noticed how often Eddie tells me about his problems, and I quickly provide the required fix. While it takes more effort, and I’m far from consistent, I’ve started trying to remember to coach, “That’s a problem. What’s a solution?” Wouldn’t it be great if we could teach our kids to present us with possible solutions instead of constantly communicating their problems? In a perfect world, right?

I mean, our autopilot is making sure all is right in our kids’ world. It all started when they showed up as helpless little bundles of joy with only one way of communicating their problems: varying degrees of crying/fussing/screaming. We had no choice but to learn to foresee and ascertain what may be causing such distress and resolving it for them. But somewhere along the line they’ve learned and grown and developed some basic skills. How can we shut off the autopilot and empower them to come up with their own solutions?



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photo credit: Amelia Zobrist Photography

It takes a bit more time, for sure, but let’s be long-haul thinkers! If we can teach them to be a little self-sufficient, we’re saving time down the road. First, point out that they’re presenting a problem. Voicing the problem is important, but they’ll need a little coaching to move on to the next step: what are some possible solutions? Take a minute to help them think of what they can do? Even something as simple as asking for help is technically a solution. Talk through pros and cons, possible consequences of different solutions. Yes, hitting your brother because he took your toy is a solution to your problem, but it might result in his distress and your subsequent time-out. After they try a solution, talk about about whether or not it worked and if there might be a better solution for the future. All in all, it takes about 10 seconds longer than just solving their problem for them, and we invested in some future adulting skills!


Next step, we teach them to solve problems people don’t even know they have yet, and Boom! We’ve got the next generation of innovators!

One thought on “Let’s Talk Problem Solving

  1. I think this is a really smart approach. I didn’t do it as much with my first as I should have (and she’ll still be sitting in the kitchen asking me to bring her a glass of water!) but I love watching my 3rd out of sheer necessity find ways to solve her own problems and become more self-reliant.


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