The urge to fix things for my kids has been and continues to be a constant inner battle for me. I fall into this trap for two main reasons: because I hate to see my kids struggle and because I often feel that it would just be easier if I got the job done myself.
Perhaps you struggle with this too. If so, let me urge you to resist the temptation to be a fix-it parent. Problem solving is one of the most valuable skills you can teach your kids and I suggest you start when they are young.
Ways to Teach Problem Solving
- Nurture Critical Thinking. Critical thinking is the ability to break down a problem into parts and analyze them. Even when they are little, you can do this by asking open-ended questions like, “How many ways can you sort these toys?” Or “What sort of pattern do you see here?”
- You don’t always have to answer. When your child wonders “why is the sky blue?” or “why can’t I see the wind?” you don’t have to immediately respond with an answer. Let him express his own thoughts and ideas because really, when he asks, he is not looking for a scientific explanation, he is merely verbalizing his child-like wonder and curiosity.
- Model problem-solving skills to your child. When dinner burns in the oven, do you get mad or panic? Or do you say, “well, now let’s think of a plan B”? Or when your child brings home a weak report card, do you just punish or do you seek for ways to help him work on improving his grades?
- Provide plenty of time for free play. Let your child have lots of time to choose activities based on his interests. Free-play offers many endless opportunities for your child to identify and solve problems.
- Sometimes you just have to keep your hands off. It may be easier to jump in and show your child the “right” way to do something, but that stifles his creative thinking and communicates that you don’t think he can handle it. Why not give your child a chance? Watch his problem-solving skills in action. No, he may not do it the way you would–it may be messier or not as efficient–but who says that your way is the only right way? I remember many times inspecting my kids rooms after they were clean or their finished science projects, and biting my tongue because it was not done the way I would have done it myself.
- Praise effort. As he works on a puzzle by himself or sorts his toys, a smile, a nod, or a simple “good job” may be all the encouragement he needs.
- Make home a non-judgement zone. Make sure your family is a safe “laboratory” where your children knows he can experiment and solve problems without your criticism and constant correction.
- Provide problem-solving opportunities. Offer games, puzzles, books, and projects that inspire creative and critical thinking and that encourage your child to stretch his mind.
- Quit trying to model perfection. Your kids need to see that you make mistakes too. There may even be times when you can ask them to help you solve the problem. Not only does this make them feel important, it also teaches them problem-solving.
Problem solving is learning to use two very important skills: logical thinking and creative thinking. In reality, this means more work for you. You can’t go through your day on parental auto-pilot. It requires you to think, observe, and ask good questions. Time consuming and exhausting, yes. But investing in this process now when your kids are young will pay huge dividends as they grow up and you see them work through problems in their young adult lives.
Janis B. Meredith, sports mom and coach’s wife, writes a sports parenting blog called JBM Thinks and is the author of the Sports Parenting Survival Guide Series. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.