Kids of all ages face problems and challenges on a daily basis, but kids often lack effective problem-solving strategies.
Using science-based information to determine effective problem-solving approaches, it appears that for preschoolers, it is helpful to focus on naming, validating and processing emotions and after that, to focus on finding a solution they feel they can do. Books and pretend play can make this step easier.
Similarly, it appears that teaching early elementary-aged kids a step by step formula, will help them feel more confident, independent and successful. This can build skills in managing their emotions, thinking flexibly, and persisting until they find a solution.
Offer guidance to your child as you work through the following steps together:
Tell what the problem is and what your child is feeling.
List possible solutions.
For each idea, discuss what would likely happen (pros and cons).
Choose a solution that feels comfortable to both of you and try it out.
Discuss what worked/didn’t work.
Choose to keep doing what worked/choose a new strategy for what didn’t work.
Keep trying until something works.
In Mission:CONTROL!, Joseph’s mom helped him identify the problem and his feelings. She asked him to try to come up with a solution, which triggered his big feelings adventure where he decided to solve the problem about the TV by using will power. The story doesn’t specifically spell out steps 3 and 4 because Joseph felt he could solve the problem independently; we do, however, see his mom helping him through steps 5 and 6 at the end of the story. His mom praised his process of getting from an upset to a feeling of accomplishment.
In order to gain confidence as a problem-solver, try asking open-ended questions with a curiosity, such as the ones below:
How can we work together to solve this?
What part is hard?
What was easy for you?
What will you do again?
What would you do differently next time?
What would you tell a friend to try in a situation like this?
Show me your idea.
How did you figure that out?
How did you make that happen?
Did your brain get stronger by solving that problem?
What do you think you should do?
What would you like to do next?
What would get in the way of what you want to do?
Note: You can also ask similar questions about a character in a book or on the TV.
Steps to take
Small step: Next time your child is struggling with a problem, choose an open-ended question that could help your child take a step toward solving it.
Advanced step: Read Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy and connect the characters, problems and solutions in the book to your child’s experiences at home or school.