Helping children become their own problem solvers
Part of childhood involves children learning how to find solutions in different situations.
Young children, even younger than five years of age can learn to become great problem solvers with the right help. When we have them find an object, like a toy or cup, on their own, or sometimes with guidance, they are practicing their problem solving skills. We can enhance this learning skill by hiding an object under a blanket and having them try to find it, or just playing peek-a-boo. Instead of stepping in all the time to solve a problem, Michigan State University Extension suggests encouraging them to come up with their own ideas, make mistakes, rethink the problem and try again.
When a piece of a game is missing, have the child make up a new rule on how to play the game to make it work. When there is a problem, like pushing in line, don’t just say the new rule is no pushing. Instead have the children come up with the new rule which can potentially result in a rule such as, “No pushing and take turns.” Because they solved the problem themselves, they will be more likely to abide by it. When children are encouraged to think about new ideas, they are ultimately expanding their thinking skills for a lifetime.
When children have trouble playing together or sharing it is a great time to encourage their thinking skills. Have children sit down together and talk about the problem. Have each child tell their side of the story. Encourage the other child to listen to the one speaking and try to understand their side of the story. We can began to introduce feeling words such as, “I can see Johnny is angry, hurt or mad.” In addition, this is the perfect time to introduce the word “frustrated” to them. They will begin to learn about their own feelings along with being sensitive to the feelings of others.
Adults can use puppets to act out problem solving skills as well. We can make up the story, or better yet have the child make it up based on a given situation. There are also many books we can get from the library about problem solving. Always remember to praise children for expanding their thinking skills. These are skills they will use for a lifetime.