5 Tips for building youth’s leadership skills – Part 5: Solving problems

Explore some quick suggestions to add opportunities to develop problem-solving skills during youth development activities.

Many youth development organizations, including 4-H, strive to prepare youth for a changing future. Leadership skills are an important component of this preparation. However, most volunteers with youth development programs come with specific project skills, such as knowledge about how to bake bread or how to play soccer. Adding leadership skills to these experiences will expand the participants’ learning as well as multiply their skills.

It’s not always easy to know how to help youth take on more responsibility, so here are a few ideas any volunteer can use to enhance the problem-solving skills of their participants:

  • Allow youth time to be creative. This may be giving them unstructured time to just play with learning kits, an opportunity for artistic expression of an idea, or letting them come up with new ways to accomplish regular tasks. Providing youth time to be creative helps their brains gain flexibility to think of new ideas, which will build their problem-solving skills.
  • Involve another 4-H volunteer when planning an educational session for a diversity of ideas. It is beneficial for participants to encounter a variety of teaching styles and activities. It is also valuable to involve youth in the planning of meetings.
  • Practice problem-solving with your participants. Give them a hypothetical issue related to their projects and allow them time to brainstorm ideas, discuss options as a group, and organize an action plan for how they would proceed. Encouraging conversation among the youth will give them a chance to hear other perspectives and ideas that they might not otherwise think about.
  • Create space for youth to talk about real-world issues. Giving them small doses of what’s going on in the larger world stage will prepare them for an adulthood of sifting through issues. It is also helpful for them to see the process that leads to decisions, so that even if they don’t agree with a particular choice, they can appreciate the factors that were considered.
  • Allocate time for discussion of problem-solving methods. If youth have not been exposed to thinking about this type of skill before, they may appreciate being able to talk about the process of thinking through options. Hearing how others solve problems will give them more ideas the next time they encounter a situation where they need those skills.

When you need new ideas or want some help adding layers of skill-building to your 4-H participants’ experiences, make sure to visit your local 4-H office or check out the Citizenship, Leadership & Service section of the Michigan 4-H website for lots of information! This is the fifth in a series of how to build leadership skills in youth. Be sure to also read about decision-making skills, responsible leadership, public-speaking skills and goal-setting skills.

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