Teaching Problem Solving

Whether your child has already started his first day of school or whether it's still months away, teaching him problem solving skills will greatly impact his ability to flourish at school and at home. However, this problem solving isn't necessarily reminiscent of 'problem solving' as it's commonly seen on resumes or report cards. This is 'problem solving' in its early stages and it's all about emotional coping and learning to navigate the stormy waters of preschool-hood.

Preschoolers are prone to stress tantrums. Not having things their way can trigger a torrent of angry fist-waving or hurling of objects. And it's understandable when you take into consideration that a preschooler has a very limited sense of autonomy and control, which are vital to an individual's ability to thrive. Anything can instigate these tantrums; for example, your preschooler has come grocery shopping with you and you've just given him a 'negative' on his request for those dinosaur-shaped fruit snacks. He unleashes his fury. How do you help your child work through these issues? Here are some tips on teaching problem solving skills to your child for all life's little difficulties:

  • identify the problem: maybe your child is having problems pinpointing the cause of his frustrations; is he acting up or having a tough time because he hasn't eaten? As a parent, chances are you understand the intricate mechanisms at play behind your preschooler's every move. After your child has calmed down, sit down quietly together and help your child identify why he was so frustrated.
  • come up with alternate solutions: if hunger is the cause of your child's woes, suggest that instead of verbally abusing his little sister, he sits down and eats a healthy meal.
  • weigh the possible consequences: have your child look at all his options and evaluate the potential consequences. For example, the consequences of verbally abusing a sibling could lead to fights, whereas eating a meal will solve his frustrations.
  • a plan of action: if, after helping your preschooler problem solve, the two of you notice a pattern, come up with a plan of action! Help your child recognize the signs of hunger and frustration that lead to violent outbursts, so you can quickly nip them in the bud.

This kind of logical approach to solving problems will help your child deal with his emotional ups and downs right now. It gives your child a sense of control over their emotions. Children who feel like they have no control over their existence often display 'learned helplessness.' This causes children to give up trying to overcome difficulties when they are faced with problems because they have a mental history of not being able to have an affect on their environment. Learned helplessness often leads to depression. By helping your child problem solve and by giving them a healthy amount of control over their daily routines, you are letting him know that he has the ability to change life to his liking and the ability to overcome problems.

You may just think you're helping your kid learn to recognize when he's hungry, but the big picture is more favorable. Eventually, your child can apply the same kind of logic, slightly tweaked, to the problems he will have to conquer in the years to come.