How To Teach Problem-Solving To Kids (Ages 3-14)

Growing up, we face a variety of challenges that we don’t always know how to solve. How we feel about these problems ranges from slightly confused, to stressed out and upset.

And as parents, it’s understandable to want to solve every problem for our children to prevent this from happening to them. However, we shouldn’t be looking to solve every problem our kids have, otherwise how will they ever learn?

We should aim to teach them how to solve problems by themselves, or else we risk them struggling with confidence and independence.

These problem-solving skills will differentiate between age groups and the type of problems your children are facing. By teaching them different solutions to solving their problems, you’re encouraging them to become more independent, confident, and curious people that can adapt to all kinds of issues.

Universal Tips

Here are some additional steps you can take as a parent to help your children when it comes to problem-solving.

Take A Step Back

You must let your child solve problems by themselves. It can be difficult, especially while watching them deal with the consequences of failing. However, this is more beneficial for them because they will learn from any mistakes made, and will remember how to work out that particular problem in a better way, should it arise again.

Lead By Example

A good way to ensure your child learns good practices when it comes to problem-solving is by speaking your problems, and potential solutions, aloud. This will give your child a good example to follow as children tend to copy their parents and remember how they act.

It is important to teach your child that making mistakes is okay. Teach them that not every solution is going to work, but it is important to keep trying. In keeping with that advice, it is important that they see you trying again when it comes to a problem you cannot solve.

If they see you encounter a problem with stress and anger, they will remember that anger and stress when it comes to solving their problems. It is natural, and sometimes inevitable, that we will feel these emotions. However, where you can it is best to respond to those emotions in a calm, rational way.

Ask Your Child For Help

It can be beneficial to ask your child for help when you encounter a problem. The aim here is not to look for an answer (though, you can be pleasantly surprised), but to teach them that their opinion and advice are valuable and important to you. This will help their confidence in leaps and bounds, and let them trust themselves when it comes to solving their problems.

Ask For Advice

We aren’t always going to have all the answers to our child’s problems. Whether you’re a first-time parent, or you’re a parent to many children, there will be issues that arise that’ll have you scratching your head as much as your child is. In these instances, it is okay to ask for help from other parents, parenting books, family, or friends and colleagues with children.

Teaching Problem-Solving Solutions

Different ages require different problem-solving steps. This is because the solutions presented require different levels of maturity, which develop over time.

Early Years

These steps typically cover children ranging from 3-5 years old.

Managing Emotions

It is a good idea to teach problem solving to children early on about identifying and dealing with emotions. They need to learn that no emotion is a ‘bad’ emotion, even the ones that feel negative, like anger, stress, frustration, etc. After all, we can learn a lot from feeling these ways.

When your child expresses a negative emotion while trying to problem-solve, let them know that it is okay to feel that way, and tell them that how they respond to negative emotions matters more than the emotions themselves.

Take them to a space where they can calm down. And, when they’re ready to talk, ask them to show you the problem and what they’re having trouble with. This way, you can prompt them into finding a solution.

But remember! Give your child space to talk. Let them do most of the talking, working through a problem by voicing their ideas out loud.

Work Through Play

Another way to help young children solve problems is to teach them these skills through play, and fun activities. Whatever games your children are interested in, be it puzzles, tea parties, cars, dress-up, playing offers a chance to learn without them realizing it. Your children will learn to solve simple problems about the world around them.

For example, they can work out how to fit puzzle pieces together, or think about the last place where they saw their dolls and teacups.

You can also teach your children problem-solving through reading and storybooks. Find stories about characters resolving issues, and ask your child how they would solve the problem, or a similar problem in their life. Keep an open dialogue about the characters, and allow your child to ask as many questions as they want to – they’ll take in more than they realize!

Starting School

These tips are ideal for children in their early years of leaving kindergarten and starting school, around 5-7 years old.

Breaking It Down

Problems you cannot solve can be so daunting to think about, especially if you’re a young child. The best thing you can teach your children at this age is to break down the problem into small steps until it is gone.

These steps are useful for all kinds of problems, so it’s worth teaching them to your child at this stage so they can go back to them throughout their lives.

Step 1: Name The Emotion

Tell your child to say how they feel out loud. Get them to say they’re angry, or confused, or upset. This will help them process and understand this emotion.

Step 2: Name The Problem

Now that your child understands the emotion, the next thing they need to do is name the problem. Teach them to do this in a way that doesn’t shift blame onto someone, or something else. For example, instead of saying ‘my sister got me into trouble at lunchtime’, encourage them to say what they did wrong, ‘I got into trouble at lunchtime for shouting at my sister.’

Another example is not to say, ‘the puzzle is stupid because it is too difficult to solve’, rather, ‘I am finding the puzzle difficult to solve.’

Step 3: Come Up With Solutions

Now that your child has identified how they feel, and identified the problem, it is time for them to try and come up with their solutions. They can be ‘good’, or ‘bad’, at this stage, it doesn’t matter. What matters more is your child is beginning to think critically and come up with ideas.

Step 4: Explore The Consequences

Start asking your child questions about the solutions they have come up with. Encourage them to consider if the solution is fair, how it would make others feel, is it safe to try? You must explore every solution they come up with, allowing them to see both positive and negative results so they can learn.

Step 5: Choose A Solution

Encourage your child to begin trying solutions. If a solution fails, talk to them about why and how, give them some encouragement to try another one, and repeat until the problem is solved.

Once you have established these steps, practice them so they become a natural process for your child. And don’t forget to lead by example by following these steps for your own problems!

Question, Question, Question

This is the age where your child generally becomes more and more curious and starts asking non-stop questions. This shows that they’re beginning to think about things, and it is good to let them explore their curiosity.

It is also good practice to ask them questions to help them improve their critical and creative thinking. It is good to make sure these questions are open-ended, so your child can think about their answers rather than give a simple ‘yes,’ or ‘no.’

Examples of open-ended questions include:

  • What would happen if…?
  • How did you work that out?
  • What have you learned?

Arts And Crafts

At this age, your child still loves to play. Normally, they’re showing an interest in arts and crafts, and this can be a great way to teach them about problem-solving.

Keep your home stocked with crafting materials – colored pencils, tape, paper, glitter, etc. Let them sit and come up with ideas and art pieces, and make sure to compliment their work.

Why not put it on your fridge, or wall, so they can feel proud of their work and ideas. This type of play exercises your child’s creative and independent thinking, which is great when it comes to solving problems.

Getting Older

These steps are ideal for children aged 7-9.

What We’ve Learned So Far

At this stage of life, your child’s problems will begin to get more complicated. In moments of stress, it is easy, especially for a child, to feel overwhelmed and forget how to solve problems efficiently. Therefore, it is important for you as a parent to combine the steps above and reinforce them to your child.

So, when dealing with bigger and more complex problems, remember that it is still important for your child to acknowledge their emotions, calm down, and then work on identifying the problem and breaking it down into manageable pieces.

Remember to let your child talk openly to you and think for themselves. Give them gentle nudges and prompts if needed, through open-ended questions and by allowing them to talk through solutions.

Use The Internet

Just as an early-years child can find storybooks helpful when it comes to problem-solving, an older child may find youtube videos, or simple explanation videos helpful when it comes to solving their problems.

Take, for instance, the Broken Escalator video. This amusing video shows a group of people getting stuck on an escalator. Watch it with your child and listen to their solutions, asking open-ended questions to encourage them to think more about how they would solve the problem.

Encouraging your child to think about how they would solve other problems, may help them use those critical thinking skills when it comes to solving their own.

Double Digits

These next tips are ideal for children aged 10-11.

Hard Work Pays Off

At this age, when your child starts asking for new things – be it new technology, games, clothes, it is a good idea to start teaching them the value of money. You can do this by asking them to work for the new item they want. Begin by asking your child to come up with ideas on how to earn the money they need.

As always, keep asking open-ended questions and giving encouragement as they come up with ideas to work towards their goal.

Your child will begin evaluating situations and this in turn will increase their confidence in their problem-solving skills.

Writing Things Down

Sometimes, seeing problems written down on paper can help clear your head, and enable you to think about situations clearly. Once a problem is clear in your head, you can begin brainstorming solutions.

Assessing The Aftermath

After attempting a solution to a problem, encourage your child to take the above process further by asking themselves ‘what happened? What went well? What didn’t go so well?’ And most importantly, ‘why?’

This is a reflective process that encourages your child to think about the outcome and various other outcomes. This will be useful for all future problems because they can think back to previous experiences and decide what solution to use in their current situation.

Preteen To Young Teen

These final few tips are great for when your child is a preteen or a young teenager. Ideally, around 12-14 years old.

Did Someone Say Sodas?

No, we don’t actually mean the sweet, carbonated drinks most kids love. (And who are we kidding, most adults, too!) We mean S.O.D.A.S, a method useful for your tweens and teens when it comes to problem-solving.

Similar to our Breaking it Down advice, S.O.D.A.S involves breaking a problem down into small parts until it is solved. Encourage your kids to follow this method:

S – Situation – Identify the problem
O – Options – Work out solutions to the problem
D – Disadvantages – Think about, or write down, some disadvantages to your ideas
A – Advantages – Think about, or write down, some advantages to your ideas
S – Solution – Consider your options, advantages, and disadvantages, and choose the solution you think is best.

Problem-Solving For Fun

At some point, your child is going to start enjoying encountering and solving problems for fun. This could be in the form of math questions, science experiments, debating, etc. Start encouraging them to join a club that develops these skills further, like a science or debate club!

Just like when your child was in their early years, this will encourage them to explore something they enjoy, practice it, and pick up the necessary problem-solving skills they need in life, without even realizing it!

Another great way to do this is by participating in problem-solving activities together. A great example of this is chess. Chess requires players to exercise all kinds of skills. From critical thinking and analysis to game strategy and creative thinking, it is the ultimate problem-solving game!

Best of all, you don’t need an actual chessboard to play it. You can download chess apps on your phone, play it online on a laptop or computer, or use many other resources.

If your child loves to play, you can buy books on various game strategies or encourage them to look up tips online. And if you don’t know how to play, there are many informative videos online too, so you and your child can learn and problem-solve together!

Coding Is Cool

Today’s generation of preteens and teens are very tech-savvy, most of them having begun to use the internet or other forms of technology (Did someone say Xbox?) at very young ages. While we parents may be very keen to limit technology and internet usage, I think we can make an exception for coding.

Much like chess, learning to code exercises our creative thinking, organization, and logical thinking skills, as well as disciplining our motivation and perseverance. All of these skills are key to successful problem-solving!

If this tip is of interest to you or your child, then there are fantastic tools online, and even some in-person tutorials or clubs that can teach your child to code.

Allow Them To Pursue Their Interests

There is problem-solving to be done in all aspects of life. As teens and tweens develop and grow their interests, they will practice these skills naturally while participating in them.

Let’s say, for example, your child wants to start a blog on YouTube. They will practice problem-solving as they work out the theme and aims of the channel, how to build a following, and how to promote their channel on social media.

If your child wants to plan a trip to the bowling alley with friends, they will problem-solve by figuring out how to sign up or book their slot, organizing how they are getting there, and getting home, and how much money they will need.

Final Thoughts

And there you have it! This concludes our top tips for teaching kids how to problem solve. To summarize our tips, we think different ages require different approaches when it comes to problem-solving.

Young children will learn better through play, storybooks, or arts & crafts, while older children will learn better by talking through or writing down problems, testing out solutions, and practicing their skills by joining clubs or pursuing interests.

As your children get older, you can work on building on the foundational tips.

Some universal advice, though, is to teach your kids to manage their emotions, so they can think about their problems clearly. And, when you feel stuck, it is okay to ask for help from other parents, or trusted friends and family.

We know it is not always easy to pass on valuable lessons and life advice to your children. But what’s most important is that you keep trying to follow these steps and that you are there to support them no matter the outcome.


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