Reader Question: How Do I Help My Kid Be a Good Problem Solver?

I want my grandchild to become a big problem solver for anyone who will pay her extremely well. My only requirement is that what she does must be ethical and legal. How do I teach her to consistently think of how to solve problems? 

–  Anonymous

Hi, Anonymous,

This is a great question.

Teaching kids to solve problems is simple… but not easy.  They need loads and loads of practice!

Our children know that we are great problem-solvers. That’s why they often just bring us the struggle and wait for us to solve it. Even more, we are so used to helping them that we sometimes don’t even wait for them to mention a problem. We trouble shoot every day to make sure no problems present themselves. And if one does? We jump out in front of them to solve it.

Because of love – these are our people after all. Or because of fear – we know the bad things that can happen. Or guilt – what if our child faces a hard consequence or difficult situation that we could have prevented? For all these reasons and more we struggle to let children struggle.

Struggle is the answer to raising good problem-solvers.

We have to be willing to let our kids be uncomfortable. Discomfort is what makes us grow and learn.  Think about it – when you’re comfortable and everything is going well, you’re not often changing in anyway or acquiring a new skill. Once we get comfortable with their discomfort, the solution is simple.

Every time your child has a problem (or a potential problem), ask THEM what they think they should do.

Encourage your granddaughter to identify what is bothering her, what she wants to happen, and then to come up with possibilities to solve it. Then she picks one, and tries it. Later, ask her about how it went so she can decide if the problem is better.

That process: 

Identify the Problem -> Set a Goal -> Name Possible Solutions -> Try One -> Evaluate the Outcome

is the path we all follow as we try to effectively solve problems.\

Have you ever tried ice skating? Most people can’t ice skate the first time. As a matter of fact, the first time doesn’t often look anything like ice skating does on TV. It looks like falling on your behind! It takes a lot of practice for you to skate smoothly or with any confidence.

The same is true of problem-solving. The several times our kids try solving a problem, it doesn’t look much like problem-solving. It often looks like them falling on their behind!  But without that practice, they’ll never get good at it. No matter how often our kids watch us ice skate, that will never make them good on the ice themselves.

No matter how often we solve problems for our child, that will never make them good problem-solvers themselves.

So I hope that you can let her try, and mess up, and try again. It takes lots of practice!

All the best,
Dr. G

If you have a parenting question, you can leave it in the comments below, ask on AskDoctorG.comFacebook or Twitter.

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