How to help your child become an adept problem solver

We all want our children to achieve independence, self-sufficiency, and to feel a sense of competence and ownership of their accomplishments. A self-confident child will take more chances, will persist when faced with a challenge rather than giving up, and will be more open to learning experiences. There are ways in which we can help to foster these traits in children from a young age. Children with self-confidence feel capable of facing and tackling new problems that may come their way. You can help your child become a good problem-solver by using some of these strategies:

1) See moments of frustration as opportunities for growth. I find that the hardest thing as a parent can be to hold yourself back when you feel most compelled to step in and help your child. I have to make a conscious choice to take a moment and wait when faced with a frustrated child. Allow some room for the child to try to solve the problem on their own. Rather than offering help, just reflect what they are experiencing and empathize with their experience. “You are working so hard to close that zipper. It can take a lot of tries to figure out how to do it.”

2) Before offering help, ask questions to see if your child can identify the exact problem. We all know as adults that before we can fix a problem, we must have a clear picture of what the problem is. This mindset can begin by simply having your child zero in on what is causing the difficulty they are facing. For instance, “what is it about this zipper that makes it so hard to pull up?” or “do you think something is making it extra hard for you to close that zipper today?”

3) When you provide assistance, always try to offer the least support possible. A minimal level of support may be a general statement such as “I wonder if it the bottom of the zipper is connected all the way?” or “something seems to be getting in the way of the zipper closing.” Even when you step in to physically help a child, do only the minimum amount necessary to move them past the point of being stuck and then allow them to complete the task on their own. In this way, you can still promote a feeling of success and self-efficacy.

4) Encourage children by praising the effort they put into solving problems or persisting in challenging situations, not on the outcome of the situation. For instance “I love that you kept trying to close that zipper on your own and didn’t give up.” In general, we can promote a growth mindset by reinforcing children’s ability to persist and sustain their efforts, rather than by focusing on the result of the work they did. In this way children can internalize that they are capable of accomplishing anything as long as they persist in trying, rather than walking away from challenges because they believe they just don’t have the inherent ability to be successful in that particular area.

5) It is also important for children to know that asking for help is ok and not a sign of weakness. Help them to identify situations where they could ask for help versus those in which they can continue to persevere on their own. When you see your child struggling and recognize they are engaging in a task beyond their abilities, offer to help and ask what kind of help they want. For instance “would you like me to connect the zipper at the bottom so that you can do the rest of it?” You can also model the importance of asking for help yourself which has the added bonus of making your child feel a sense of pride in being of assistance to you.