This post is sponsored by Sun-Maid, but all opinions are my own.
One of the biggest skills I want my children to learn is how to be problem-solving adults.
My dad has a fun line he used a million times when I was growing up. If something tricky came up, he’d say “If I gave you $10,000, do you think you could solve this problem?”
It’s easy to get mired down in a problem, but stepping back and realizing that there almost ALWAYS is a solution of some sort, if you’re willing to look for it.
And even if my dad never actually gave me $10,000 (or even $1) for figuring out how to get a flight changed or put on a spare tire or find a lost key, those problem solving skills have been worth more than that to me as an adult.
And certainly I want to do the same for my children.
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7 Ways I Help My Children Learn PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS
- Step back and let them have problems. There is no problem solving without the problem piece of it. It’s so easy as a parent to want to help your child avoid all the problems. But eventually, you won’t be around to solve all the problems and those problems will be bigger than the ones they face at 3 or 5 or 10. I’d rather them practice those problem solving skills on low-risk issues and in a safe environment. Helicopter parenting might seem easier in the moment, but in the long run is a LOT more work. When something frustrates them, don’t
- Practice in real time with real projects. Like everything, problem solving skills get stronger with practice. So I love making sure my girls have opportunities to practice, whether it’s putting together a Google form for a new business, trying out a recipe in the kitchen together, or organizing a drawer of pajamas so that everything fits and the drawer can close. Let them fiddle around, try things out, and find a solution that works (even if it’s not the solution you might have picked!).
- Read books that feature problem solvers. You know I believe in the power of books to help open up discussions with your children, and problem solving is no different. Look for books that showcase great problem solving. If you’re reading a book and see someone being a problem solver, point it out to your child. If a character ISN’T a great problem solving, brainstorm with your child how they could have solved a problem instead. One of our recent favorite series is the Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker books by Shelley Johannes. Beatrice is always looking for clever solutions to her everyday problems at home and school, and they’ve created a wonderful springboard for discussing problem solving with my children.
- Model problem solving. Just as a good as books is watching other people problem solve around you. Bart and I try hard to show our children our own problem solving in action, whether it’s figuring out how to deal with a house project kink (which our nearly 70 year old house gives us PLENTY of opportunities to do) or figuring out how to pack for a trip so we don’t take too much stuff but also don’t forget anything, or making do when we’re out of an ingredient for dinner.
- Help them come up with solutions. This summer, one of our children got in the habit of calling her sisters unkind names. Bart and I sat down with her and after talking with her about how we didn’t want that kind of behavior in our home, we asked her to come up with some solutions for how to stop it. She immediately came up with several ideas and we picked one and practiced it together. Having HER come with a solution was much more powerful than us dictating how to deal with this habit.
- Redirect into problem solving mode. Sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in problem CREATING mode (I have a few children who struggle with this). My little reminder phrase when this starts happening is “are you LOOKING for problem or are you looking for SOLUTIONS?” Just that quick redirect can help them (and me!) remember that the goal is to find a solution, not to wallow in the problems.
- Notice when you need a solution and when you just need a minute to wallow. A few months ago, Tally had a string of terrible nights of sleep. Which, of course, meant that I had a string of terrible nights of sleep. On the third or fourth morning, I burst into tears when Bart came home from his run and cried for a solid 5 minutes about how tired I was and how I wasn’t going to be able to get any of the many things on my to-do list done and how hard it is for me to be a patient mom when I’m absolutely exhausted. Bart immediately started making suggestions about how I could fit in a nap that morning or how we could help Tally sleep better that night, and after about 90 seconds, I said, “I think right now I’m not ready to talk about solutions. I just need to be annoyed for a few minutes.” I think about that all the time with my girls – I might want to jump in with problem solving before they’re ready to move out of disappointment or frustration. If I give them a little time to process their emotions, then they’re much more able to work on problem solving.
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