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Problem solving supports

As a parent, it can be challenging to watch your child struggle. We often want to jump in, provide our input, and fix their issues – bam, problem solved! But what this does not do is support long-term growth and development. As adults, we have had many opportunities to assess risks, ponder issues and create solutions. But our children don’t have those same experiences of solving past problems, so when we solve problems for our kids, instead of breeding confidence, we are creating dependence on others. This reduces confidence, resiliency, self-esteem and tenacity. 

Next time your child has a problem, consider these points:

Risk assessment. First thing is first: is this a problem that involves safety concerns? If yes, then it might be important that you step in and help give some guidance on how to proceed. In these cases, it’s always good to debrief the situation afterwards (see below for more details).

Curiosity questions. When your child approaches you with a challenging situation, or you witness an interaction that you perceive as problematic, enter with some curiosity questions or statements. “That sounds like it felt really frustrating for you” or “I wonder how you were wanting the situation to go?” By using some curiosity statement like this, you allow for some reflection that provides you with more information and gives your child a chance to think about aspects of the problem they hadn’t considered before. From there, a solution might become more readily available.

Skills and abilities. Does my child have the skills to solve this on their own? Is this a problem that a child of their age can solve? What skills do they need to have in order to work through this? Things like social communication, perspective taking, regulation and other skills may be considered. Depending on the age of your child, they might not have the skills needed to solve it entirely on their own, so some coaching may be required. 

This can also give you a glimpse of what would be valuable to work with them on “Okay, now I know they’re really struggling with turn taking.” Then you can purposefully insert activities that might work on those skills in other areas of the day.

Self-reflection. When you approach someone with a problem, do you want them to immediately jump to problem solving? Perhaps sometimes you just want a validating nod, an empathetic comment, or a listening ear. Maybe you are looking for a perspective shift or a curious question. If we take a minute to wonder, “how would I want to be treated right now?” that can give us a glimpse into the minds of our children and what they need or want.

Debrief the problem. Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we jump in feet first and save them before we have time to think. No worries! It’s hard as a parent to take a step back, so this is a learning moment for you as well. But if this happens, always take the time to debrief afterwards about what happened, what the solution was and what the outcome was. You can take these moments to ask, “if this happens again, what do you think you would do next time? Do you think my idea worked? Was there something different you would have done?” This still leaves room for critical thinking and planning for next time.

Always remain available. We want our kids to keep coming to us with their problems, regardless of age. If we show that we are a safe space that is available for some judgment-free brainstorming, they will know they can bring their problems to us without fear. As our children grow, their problems will inevitably become more complex as social pressures increase, academics grow harder, and they are faced with more mature and complex situations. These are the times that will really matter, where we can support them in making healthy choices and create lessons that will last a lifetime.

There are many ways we can encourage our children to be great problem solvers by providing the right amount of support and the appropriate tools. It isn’t easy, and there will always be bumps in the road, but the more you practice this process, the better you’re able to create a strong relationship with your child and set them up for success.


Ashlee and Lisa are child psychologists who created KidsConnect Psychology as a place for children and families to access tools, supports and therapy. Check out their website for digital downloads, parenting toolkits, information about parent counseling, school consultations, daycare consultations and more! Follow them on Facebook and Instagram @kidsconnectpsychology.


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