How to Teach Your Child Problem Solving Skills

By Nannette Richford
Children learn problem solving skills from playing with others.

Effective problem solving skills allow your child to work through conflicts and seek out solutions to everyday events in life. Whether your child meets and overcomes challenges in life depends, in part, on how well-developed his problem solving skills are. Helping him develop those skills builds confidence and independence and puts him on the road to self-sufficiency. Expose your little one to a variety of activities to build his thinking skills.

Allow your child to problem solve on her own. As children mature, their ability to think through previous actions or identify cause and effect strengthens. While a 5-year-old may struggle with these concepts, children approaching the tween years often handle the process with ease. Give your child a chance to work through a problem before offering assistance.

Brainstorm possible solutions with your child. This gives him the opportunity to try out ideas on you before putting them in motion. Brainstorming strengthens your child’s ability to come up with new solutions, which is referred to as fluent thinking. Fluent thinkers attack problems with a solution in mind.

Encourage children to solve problems in non-traditional ways. For example, if the instructions for a craft project call for a hot glue gun, ask your child what he might use instead. This teaches your child to be a flexible thinker, another important component of problem solving.

Challenge your child to identify new uses for a common object. You might ask him to think of other ways to use something as simple as a golf ball, or to make lists of items grouped by a common trait, such as things that are round, fruits that are green or things you can’t see. Turning this into a game by joining your child and then sharing your answers often brings lots of laughs and surprise answers.

Give your child an assortment of small items found around the house, such as a penny, buttons and odds and ends of jewelry and ask her to sort them into groups based on a common trait. Challenge her to find as many ways as possible to sort the items by different traits. This develops your child’s critical thinking skills.

Ask your child what would have happened if events were changed. For example, “How would your day change if you missed the school bus?” Go a step further and ask how your day would change if he missed the bus. While 5- or 6-year-olds express a vague notion that their actions affect you, children 10- or 11-years-old typically exhibit a better understanding of how their actions affect others, another important skill in problem solving.

About the Author

Nannette Richford is an avid gardener, teacher and nature enthusiast with more than four years' experience in online writing. Richford holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education from the University of Maine Orono and certifications in teaching 7-12 English, K-8 General Elementary and Birth to age 5.