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How to Teach Problem-Solving Skills to Children and Preteens
- By Ashley Cullins
Whether it’s a toy-related conflict, a tough math equation, or negative peer pressure, kids of ALL ages face problems and challenges on a daily basis.
As parents or teachers, we can’t always be there to solve every problem for our children. In fact, this isn’t our job. Our job is to TEACH our children how to solve problems by themselves . This way, they can become confident , independent, and successful individuals.
Instead of giving up or getting frustrated when they encounter a challenge, kids with problem-solving skills manage their emotions, think creatively, and persist until they find a solution. Naturally, these abilities go hand-in-hand with a growth mindset .
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our FREE Your Words Matter Volume 2 Kit . With these 10 one-page parenting guides, you will know exactly how to speak to your child to help them stand up for themselves, be more confident, and develop a growth mindset.
So HOW do you teach problem-solving skills to kids?
Well, it depends on their age . As cognitive abilities and the size of the child’s challenges grow/evolve over time, so should your approach to teaching problem-solving skills.
Read on to learn key strategies for teaching problem-solving to kids, as well as some age-by-age ideas and activities.
3 General Strategies to Teach Problem-Solving at Any Age
1. model effective problem-solving .
When YOU encounter a challenge, do a “think-aloud” for the benefit of your child. MODEL how to apply the same problem-solving skills you’ve been working on together, giving the real-world examples that she can implement in her own life.
At the same time, show your child a willingness to make mistakes . Everyone encounters problems, and that’s okay. Sometimes the first solution you try won’t work, and that’s okay too!
When you model problem-solving, explain that there are some things that are out of our control. As we're solving a problem at hand we should focus on the things we CAN actually control.
You and your child can listen to Episode 35 of the Big Life Kids Podcast to learn about focusing on what you can control.
2. Ask for Advice
Ask your kids for advice when you have a problem. This teaches them that it’s common to make mistakes and face challenges. It also gives them the opportunity to practice problem-solving skills.
Plus, when you indicate that their ideas are valued , they’ll gain the confidence to attempt solving problems on their own.
3. Don’t Provide “The Answer”
As difficult as it may be, allow your child to struggle, sometimes fail , and ultimately LEARN from experiencing consequences.
Now, let’s take a look at some age-specific strategies and activities. The ages listed below are general guidelines, feel free to choose any strategies or activities that you feel will work for YOUR child.
Use Emotion Coaching
To step into a problem-solving mindset, young children need to first learn to manage their emotions . After all, it’s difficult for a small child to logically consider solutions to a problem if he’s mid-tantrum.
One way to accomplish this is by using the emotion coaching process outlined by John Gottman.
First, teach your kids that ALL emotions are acceptable. There are NO “bad” emotions. Even seemingly negative emotions like anger, sadness, and frustration can teach us valuable lessons. What matters is how we respond to these emotions.
Second, follow this process:
- Step One: Naming and validating emotions. When your child is upset, help her process the way she’s feeling. Say something like, “I understand that you’re upset because Jessica is playing with the toy you wanted.”
- Step Two: Processing emotions. Guide your child to her calming space. If she doesn't have one, it's a good idea to create one. Let her calm her body and process her emotions so she can problem-solve, learn, and grow.
- Step Three: Problem Solving. Brainstorm solutions with your child, doing more LISTENING than talking during the conversation. This allows your child to practice her problem-solving skills, and she’s more likely to actually implement the solutions she came up with herself.
Say, “Show Me the Hard Part”
When your child struggles or feels frustrated, try a technique suggested by mom and parenting blogger Lauren Tamm . Simply say, “Show me the hard part.”
This helps your child identify the ROOT of the problem, making it less intimidating and easier to solve.
Repeat back what your child says, “So you’re saying…”
Once you both understand the real problem, prompt your child to come up with solutions . “There must be some way you can fix that…” or “There must be something you can do…”
Now that your child has identified “the hard part,” she’ll likely be able to come up with a solution. If not, help her brainstorm some ideas. You may try asking the question, “If you DID know, what would you think?” and see what she comes up with.
Problem-Solve with Creative Play
Allow your child to choose activities and games based on her interests . Free play provides plenty of opportunities to navigate and creatively solve problems.
Children often learn best through play. Playing with items like blocks, simple puzzles, and dress-up clothes can teach your child the process of problem-solving.
Even while playing, your child thinks critically: Where does this puzzle piece fit? What does this do? I want to dress up as a queen. What should I wear? Where did I put my tiara? Is it under the couch?
Problem-Solve with Storybooks
Read age-appropriate stories featuring characters who experience problems, such as:
- Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy by Jacky Davis: The story of two friends who want to play together but can’t find a game to agree on. After taking turns making suggestions, they arrive at a game they both want to play: Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy.
- The Curious George Series by Margaret and H.E. Rey: A curious little monkey gets into and out of dilemmas, teaching kids to find solutions to problems of their own.
- Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber: Ira’s thrilled to have a sleepover at his friend Reggie’s house. But there’s one problem: Should he or should he not bring his teddy bear? It may seem small, but this is the type of early social problem your child might relate to.
Connect these experiences to similar events in your child’s own life, and ASK your child HOW the characters in these stories could solve their problems. Encourage a variety of solutions, and discuss the possible outcomes of each.
This is a form of dialogue reading , or actively ENGAGING your child in the reading experience. Interacting with the text instead of passively listening can “turbocharge” the development of literacy skills such as comprehension in preschool-aged children.
By asking questions about the characters’ challenges, you can also give your child’s problem-solving abilities a boost.
You can even have your child role-play the problem and potential solutions to reinforce the lesson.
For book suggestions, refer to our Top 85 Growth Mindset Books for Children & Adults list.
Teach the Problem-Solving Steps
Come up with a simple problem-solving process for your child, one that you can consistently implement. For example, you might try the following five steps:
- Step 1: What am I feeling? Help your child understand what she’s feeling in the moment (frustration, anger, curiosity, disappointment, excitement, etc.) Noticing and naming emotions will diffuse their charge and give your child a chance to take a step back.
- Step 2: What’s the problem? Guide your child to identify the specific problem. In most cases, help her take responsibility for what happened rather than pointing fingers. For instance, instead of, “Joey got me in trouble at recess,” your child might say, “I got in trouble at recess for arguing with Joey.”
- Step 3: What are the solutions? Encourage your child to come up with as many solutions as possible. At this point, they don’t even need to be “good” solutions. They’re just brainstorming here, not yet evaluating the ideas they’ve generated.
- Step 4: What would happen if…? What would happen if your child attempted each of these solutions? Is the solution safe and fair? How will it make others feel? You can also try role-playing at this step. It’s important for your child to consider BOTH positive and negative consequences of her actions.
- Step 5: Which one will I try? Ask your child to pick one or more solutions to try. If the solution didn't work, discuss WHY and move on to another one. Encourage your child to keep trying until the problem is solved.
Consistently practice these steps so that they become second nature, and model solving problems of your own the same way. It's a good idea to reflect : What worked? What didn’t? What can you do differently next time?
Problem-Solve with Craft Materials
Crafting is another form of play that can teach kids to solve problems creatively.
Provide your child with markers, modeling clay, cardboard boxes, tape, paper, etc. They’ll come up with all sorts of interesting creations and inventive games with these simple materials.
These “open-ended toys” don’t have a “right way to play,” allowing your child to get creative and generate ideas independently .
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Asking open-ended questions improves a child’s ability to think critically and creatively, ultimately making them better problem-solvers. Examples of open-ended questions include:
- How could we work together to solve this?
- How did you work it out? or How do you know that?
- Tell me about what you built, made, or created.
- What do you think will happen next?
- What do you think would happen if…?
- What did you learn?
- What was easy? What was hard?
- What would you do differently next time?
Open-ended questions have no right answer and can’t be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No.”
You can ask open-ended questions even when your child isn’t currently solving a problem to help her practice her thinking skills, which will come in handy when she does have a problem to solve.
If you need some tips on how to encourage a growth mindset in your child, don't forget to download our FREE Your Words Matter Volume 2 Kit .
Break Down Problems into Chunks
This strategy is a more advanced version of “Show me the hard part.”
The bigger your child gets, the bigger her problems get too. When your child is facing a challenge that seems overwhelming or insurmountable, encourage her to break it into smaller, more manageable chunks.
For instance, let’s say your child has a poor grade in history class. Why is the grade so low? What are the causes of this problem?
As usual, LISTEN as your child brainstorms, asking open-ended questions to help if she gets stuck.
If the low grade is the result of missing assignments, perhaps your child can make a list of these assignments and tackle them one at a time. Or if tests are the issue, what’s causing your child to struggle on exams?
Perhaps she’s distracted by friends in the class, has trouble asking for help, and doesn’t spend enough time studying at home. Once you’ve identified these “chunks,” help your child tackle them one at a time until the problem is solved.
Show “ The Broken Escalator Video ”
Discuss the importance of embracing challenges and solving problems independently with the “broken escalator video.”
In the video, an escalator unexpectedly breaks. The people on the escalator are “stuck” and yelling for help. At this age, it’s likely that your child will find the video funny and immediately offer a solution: “Just walk! Get off the escalator!”
Tell your child that this is a simple example of how people sometimes act in difficult situations. Ask, “Why do you think they didn’t get off the escalator?” (they didn’t know how, they were waiting for help, etc.)
Sometimes, your child might feel “stuck” when facing problems. They may stop and ask for help before even attempting to find a solution. Encourage your child to embrace challenges and work through problems instead.
Problem-Solve with Prompts
Provide your child or a group of children with materials such as straws, cotton balls, yarn, clothespins, tape, paper clips, sticky notes, Popsicle sticks, etc.
With just these materials, challenge your kids to solve unusual problems like:
- Make a leprechaun trap
- Create a jump ramp for cars
- Design your own game with rules
- Make a device for two people to communicate with one another
This is a fun way to practice critical thinking and creative problem-solving. Most likely, it will take multiple attempts to find a solution that works, which can apply to just about any aspect of life.
Make Them Work for It
When your child asks for a new toy, technology, or clothes, have her make a plan to obtain the desired item herself. Not only will your child have to brainstorm and evaluate solutions, but she’ll also gain confidence .
Ask your child HOW she can earn the money for the item that she wants, and encourage her as she works toward her goal .
Put It on Paper
Have your child write out their problems on paper and brainstorm some potential solutions.
But now, she takes this process a step further: After attempting each solution, which succeeded? Which were unsuccessful? Why ?
This helps your child reflect on various outcomes, learning what works and what doesn’t. The lessons she learns here will be useful when she encounters similar problems in the future.
Play Chess Together
Learning to play chess is a great way for kids to learn problem-solving AND build their brains at the same time. It requires players to use critical thinking, creativity, analysis of the board, recognize patterns, and more. There are online versions of the game, books on how to play, videos, and other resources. Don’t know how to play? Learn with your teen to connect and problem solve together!
Have Them Learn To Code
Our teens and tweens are already tech-savvy and can use their skills to solve problems by learning to code. Coding promotes creativity, logic, planning, and persistence . There are many great tools and online or in-person programs that can boost your child’s coding skills.
Encourage to Start a Meaningful Project
This project has to be meaningful to your teen, for example starting a YouTube channel. Your teen will practice problem-solving skills as they’re figuring out how to grow their audience, how to have their videos discovered, and much more.
In the Big Life Journal - Teen Edition , there’s a section that guides them through planning their YouTube channel and beginning the problem-solving process.
Apply the SODAS Method
Looking for a game plan that your teen can employ when faced with a problem? The SODAS method can be used for big or small problems. Just remember this simple acronym and follow these ideas:
- D isadvantages
- A dvantages
Encourage to Join Problem-Solving Groups
Does your teen enjoy solving problems in a team? Have them join a group or club that helps them hone their skills in a variety of settings--from science and robotics to debating and international affairs. Some examples of groups include:
- Odyssey of the Mind
- Debate team
- Science Olympiad
Looking for additional resources? The Bestseller’s Bundle includes our three most popular printable kits packed with science-based activities, guides, and crafts for children. Our Growth Mindset Kit, Resilience Kit, and Challenges Kit work together as a comprehensive system designed specifically for children ages 5-11.
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25 thoughts on “ How to Teach Problem-Solving Skills to Children and Preteens ”
I love, love, love the point about emotional coaching. It’s so important to identify how children are feeling about a problem and then approach the solutions accordingly.
Thank you for putting this together. I wrote an article on problem-solving specifically from the point of view of developing a STEM aptitude in kids, if you like to check it out – https://kidpillar.com/how-to-teach-problem-solving-to-your-kids-5-8-years/
I feel that these techniques will work for my kid.. Worthy.. Thank you
I love you guys
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Problem solving facts for kids
Problem solving is a mental activity related to intelligence and thinking . It consists of finding solutions to problems. A problem is a situation that needs to be changed. It suggests that the solution is not totally obvious, for then it would not be a problem. A great deal of human life is spent solving problems. Social life is based on the notion that together we might solve problems which we could not as individuals.
The word "problem" comes from a Greek word meaning an "obstacle" (something that is in your way). If someone has a problem, they have to find a way of solving the problem. The way to solve it is called a solution. Some problem-solving techniques have been developed and used in artificial intelligence , computer science , engineering , and mathematics . Some are related to mental problem-solving techniques studied in gestalt psychology , cognitive psychology . and chess .
Problems can be classified as ill-defined or well-defined. Ill-defined problems are those that do not have clear goals, solution paths, or expected solution. An example is how to face threats which might perhaps be made in the future. Well-defined problems have specific goals, clearly defined solution paths, and clear expected solutions. These problems also allow for more initial planning than ill-defined problems.
Being able to solve problems involves the ability to understand what the goal of the problem is and what rules could be applied to solving the problem. Sometimes the problem requires abstract thinking and coming up with a creative solution.
- This page was last modified on 23 September 2022, at 20:04. Suggest an edit .
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How to Teach Kids Problem-Solving Skills
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, international bestselling author and host of the The Verywell Mind Podcast.
Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP, is a board-certified pediatric psychologist, parent coach, author, speaker, and owner of A New Day Pediatric Psychology, PLLC.
KidStock / Blend Images / Getty Images
- Steps to Follow
- Allow Consequences
Whether your child can't find their math homework or has forgotten their lunch, good problem-solving skills are the key to helping them manage their life.
A 2010 study published in Behaviour Research and Therapy found that kids who lack problem-solving skills may be at a higher risk of depression and suicidality. Additionally, the researchers found that teaching a child problem-solving skills can improve mental health .
You can begin teaching basic problem-solving skills during preschool and help your child sharpen their skills into high school and beyond.
Why Problem-Solving Skills Matter
Kids face a variety of problems every day, ranging from academic difficulties to problems on the sports field. Yet few of them have a formula for solving those problems.
Kids who lack problem-solving skills may avoid taking action when faced with a problem.
Rather than put their energy into solving the problem, they may invest their time in avoiding the issue. That's why many kids fall behind in school or struggle to maintain friendships .
Other kids who lack problem-solving skills spring into action without recognizing their choices. A child may hit a peer who cuts in front of them in line because they are not sure what else to do.
Or, they may walk out of class when they are being teased because they can't think of any other ways to make it stop. Those impulsive choices may create even bigger problems in the long run.
The 5 Steps of Problem-Solving
Kids who feel overwhelmed or hopeless often won't attempt to address a problem. But when you give them a clear formula for solving problems, they'll feel more confident in their ability to try. Here are the steps to problem-solving:
- Identify the problem . Just stating the problem out loud can make a big difference for kids who are feeling stuck. Help your child state the problem, such as, "You don't have anyone to play with at recess," or "You aren't sure if you should take the advanced math class."
- Develop at least five possible solutions . Brainstorm possible ways to solve the problem. Emphasize that all the solutions don't necessarily need to be good ideas (at least not at this point). Help your child develop solutions if they are struggling to come up with ideas. Even a silly answer or far-fetched idea is a possible solution. The key is to help them see that with a little creativity, they can find many different potential solutions.
- Identify the pros and cons of each solution . Help your child identify potential positive and negative consequences for each potential solution they identified.
- Pick a solution. Once your child has evaluated the possible positive and negative outcomes, encourage them to pick a solution.
- Test it out . Tell them to try a solution and see what happens. If it doesn't work out, they can always try another solution from the list that they developed in step two.
Practice Solving Problems
When problems arise, don’t rush to solve your child’s problems for them. Instead, help them walk through the problem-solving steps. Offer guidance when they need assistance, but encourage them to solve problems on their own. If they are unable to come up with a solution, step in and help them think of some. But don't automatically tell them what to do.
When you encounter behavioral issues, use a problem-solving approach. Sit down together and say, "You've been having difficulty getting your homework done lately. Let's problem-solve this together." You might still need to offer a consequence for misbehavior, but make it clear that you're invested in looking for a solution so they can do better next time.
Use a problem-solving approach to help your child become more independent.
If they forgot to pack their soccer cleats for practice, ask, "What can we do to make sure this doesn't happen again?" Let them try to develop some solutions on their own.
Kids often develop creative solutions. So they might say, "I'll write a note and stick it on my door so I'll remember to pack them before I leave," or "I'll pack my bag the night before and I'll keep a checklist to remind me what needs to go in my bag."
Provide plenty of praise when your child practices their problem-solving skills.
Allow for Natural Consequences
Natural consequences may also teach problem-solving skills. So when it's appropriate, allow your child to face the natural consequences of their action. Just make sure it's safe to do so.
For example, let your teenager spend all of their money during the first 10 minutes you're at an amusement park if that's what they want. Then, let them go for the rest of the day without any spending money.
This can lead to a discussion about problem-solving to help them make a better choice next time. Consider these natural consequences as a teachable moment to help work together on problem-solving.
Becker-Weidman EG, Jacobs RH, Reinecke MA, Silva SG, March JS. Social problem-solving among adolescents treated for depression . Behav Res Ther . 2010;48(1):11-18. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2009.08.006
Pakarinen E, Kiuru N, Lerkkanen M-K, Poikkeus A-M, Ahonen T, Nurmi J-E. Instructional support predicts childrens task avoidance in kindergarten . Early Child Res Q . 2011;26(3):376-386. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2010.11.003
Schell A, Albers L, von Kries R, Hillenbrand C, Hennemann T. Preventing behavioral disorders via supporting social and emotional competence at preschool age . Dtsch Arztebl Int . 2015;112(39):647–654. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2015.0647
Cheng SC, She HC, Huang LY. The impact of problem-solving instruction on middle school students’ physical science learning: Interplays of knowledge, reasoning, and problem solving . EJMSTE . 2018;14(3):731-743.
Vlachou A, Stavroussi P. Promoting social inclusion: A structured intervention for enhancing interpersonal problem‐solving skills in children with mild intellectual disabilities . Support Learn . 2016;31(1):27-45. doi:10.1111/1467-9604.12112
Öğülmüş S, Kargı E. The interpersonal cognitive problem solving approach for preschoolers . Turkish J Educ . 2015;4(17347):19-28. doi:10.19128/turje.181093
American Academy of Pediatrics. What's the best way to discipline my child? .
Kashani-Vahid L, Afrooz G, Shokoohi-Yekta M, Kharrazi K, Ghobari B. Can a creative interpersonal problem solving program improve creative thinking in gifted elementary students? . Think Skills Creat . 2017;24:175-185. doi:10.1016/j.tsc.2017.02.011
Shokoohi-Yekta M, Malayeri SA. Effects of advanced parenting training on children's behavioral problems and family problem solving . Procedia Soc Behav Sci . 2015;205:676-680. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.09.106
By Amy Morin, LCSW Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.
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How Your Child Learns to Problem-Solve
In the course of your child's day, dozens of questions like these arise: "What's inside this box?" "How can I get into it?" "How far can I throw this ball?" "What will happen if I spill all of the crayons out of the box?" "I wonder if my teddy bear floats?" "How can I get these pieces of paper to stick to that piece of paper?" "Why does my block tower keep falling over?"
By asking these questions, your child is identifying and figuring out ways to solve them, and trying out her ideas. Every time she experiments with and investigates things in her world, such as how far water will squirt from a sprayer and what's inside a seedpod, for example, she is building her ability to solve problems. This is also true when she selects materials for building or when she learns to resolve an argument with a friend or sibling over a toy.
If we look at this process more closely, we discover that problem solving involves both creative and critical thinking. Both are necessary to figure out the solutions to problems of all kinds.
Creative thinking is the heart of problem solving. It is the ability to see a different way to do something, generate new ideas, and use materials in new ways. Central to creative thinking is the willingness to take risks, to experiment, and even to make a mistake. Part of creative thinking is "fluent" thinking, which is the ability to generate or brainstorm ideas. So ask your child "wide-open" questions! For instance, ask him to:
- imagine all the different ways to get to school (walking, flying, driving, swimming!).
- name everything he can think of that's red.
- name everything he can think of that's round.
- imagine all the things he could make out of clay or paper bags or even an empty box.
These are good examples of thinking problems that have many right answers. Research has shown that the ability to think fluently has a high correlation to school success later on. Another part of creative thinking is "flexible" thinking, which is the ability to see many possibilities or to view objects or situations in different ways. The next time your child pretends a pot is a hat or a spoon is a microphone or speculates on all the reasons that a child in a picture might feel sad, he is practicing his flexible thinking.
Critical, or logical, thinking is the ability to break an idea into its parts and analyze them. The math skills of sorting and classifying, comparing similarities and differences, are all parts of critical thinking. Whenever your child looks at, say, two glasses of juice and tries to figure out which one holds more, he is practicing this kind of thinking. To encourage it, ask your child:
- how many different ways he can sort his blocks.
- how many different ways he can make a building out of the blocks.
- how the building would be different if he used blocks of only one size.
- how a bottle of juice and his lunch box are alike and how they are different.
- how family members' shoes are alike and how they are different.
Asking questions about things that don't seem to make sense is another way children think critically. Questions such as "Why do I have a shadow on the playground but not inside?" or "Why can't I see the wind?" are examples of critical thinking. You don't need to have one right answer, but do encourage your child to express his ideas. There's one other thing to remember about problem solving: It's fun! So make room for spontaneity and prepare yourself to be surprised and delighted as you discover your child's unique way of thinking.
Developing Problem-Solving Skills for Kids | Strategies & Tips
We've made teaching problem-solving skills for kids a whole lot easier! Keep reading and comment below with any other tips you have for your classroom!
Problem-Solving Skills for Kids: The Real Deal
Picture this: You've carefully created an assignment for your class. The step-by-step instructions are crystal clear. During class time, you walk through all the directions, and the response is awesome. Your students are ready! It's finally time for them to start working individually and then... 8 hands shoot up with questions. You hear one student mumble in the distance, "Wait, I don't get this" followed by the dreaded, "What are we supposed to be doing again?"
When I was a new computer science teacher, I would have this exact situation happen. As a result, I would end up scrambling to help each individual student with their problems until half the class period was eaten up. I assumed that in order for my students to learn best, I needed to be there to help answer questions immediately so they could move forward and complete the assignment.
Here's what I wish I had known when I started teaching coding to elementary students - the process of grappling with an assignment's content can be more important than completing the assignment's product. That said, not every student knows how to grapple, or struggle, in order to get to the "aha!" moment and solve a problem independently. The good news is, the ability to creatively solve problems is not a fixed skill. It can be learned by students, nurtured by teachers, and practiced by everyone!
Your students are absolutely capable of navigating and solving problems on their own. Here are some strategies, tips, and resources that can help:
Problem-Solving Skills for Kids: Student Strategies
These are strategies your students can use during independent work time to become creative problem solvers.
1. Go Step-By-Step Through The Problem-Solving Sequence
Post problem-solving anchor charts and references on your classroom wall or pin them to your Google Classroom - anything to make them accessible to students. When they ask for help, invite them to reference the charts first.
2. Revisit Past Problems
If a student gets stuck, they should ask themself, "Have I ever seen a problem like this before? If so, how did I solve it?" Chances are, your students have tackled something similar already and can recycle the same strategies they used before to solve the problem this time around.
3. Document What Doesn’t Work
Sometimes finding the answer to a problem requires the process of elimination. Have your students attempt to solve a problem at least two different ways before reaching out to you for help. Even better, encourage them write down their "Not-The-Answers" so you can see their thought process when you do step in to support. Cool thing is, you likely won't need to! By attempting to solve a problem in multiple different ways, students will often come across the answer on their own.
4. "3 Before Me"
Let's say your students have gone through the Problem Solving Process, revisited past problems, and documented what doesn't work. Now, they know it's time to ask someone for help. Great! But before you jump into save the day, practice "3 Before Me". This means students need to ask 3 other classmates their question before asking the teacher. By doing this, students practice helpful 21st century skills like collaboration and communication, and can usually find the info they're looking for on the way.
Problem-Solving Skills for Kids: Teacher Tips
These are tips that you, the teacher, can use to support students in developing creative problem-solving skills for kids.
1. Ask Open Ended Questions
When a student asks for help, it can be tempting to give them the answer they're looking for so you can both move on. But what this actually does is prevent the student from developing the skills needed to solve the problem on their own. Instead of giving answers, try using open-ended questions and prompts. Here are some examples:
2. Encourage Grappling
Grappling is everything a student might do when faced with a problem that does not have a clear solution. As explained in this article from Edutopia , this doesn't just mean perseverance! Grappling is more than that - it includes critical thinking, asking questions, observing evidence, asking more questions, forming hypotheses, and constructing a deep understanding of an issue.
There are lots of ways to provide opportunities for grappling. Anything that includes the Engineering Design Process is a good one! Examples include:
- Engineering or Art Projects
- Design-thinking challenges
- Computer science projects
- Science experiments
3. Emphasize Process Over Product
For elementary students, reflecting on the process of solving a problem helps them develop a growth mindset. Getting an answer "wrong" doesn't need to be a bad thing! What matters most are the steps they took to get there and how they might change their approach next time. As a teacher, you can support students in learning this reflection process.
4. Model The Strategies Yourself!
As creative problem-solving skills for kids are being learned, there will likely be moments where they are frustrated or unsure. Here are some easy ways you can model what creative problem-solving looks and sounds like.
- Ask clarifying questions if you don't understand something
- Admit when don't know the correct answer
- Talk through multiple possible outcomes for different situations
- Verbalize how you’re feeling when you find a problem
Practicing these strategies with your students will help create a learning environment where grappling, failing, and growing is celebrated!
Problem-Solving Skill for Kids
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Problem Solving For Kids
Help your kid become an ace at solving problems with these problem-solving activities and games .
As children grow up they’ll be faced with several problems. These problems can be complicated, they’ll challenge the kids intellectually, physically and mentally and emotionally. Dealing with all of these can leave them feeling stressed and anxious. That’s why it’s important to equip children with problem solving skills. These problem solving skills will help the children deal with and tackle these problems without any stress or anxiety.
Teaching Problem-Solving For Kids
Problems aren’t something that only adults face. Kids have problems too, it could be a conflict over toys or candy, a math test or even negative peer pressure. As parents and educators, you can’t always be there to resolve conflicts and solve problems for them. A parent’s job is to raise a confident, independent, and successful individual, equipped with the right problem solving skills.
Young children often get frustrated and give up on things when they encounter an obstacle or a problem. With the right problem solving skills, kids learn to think creatively, and work persistently until they find a solution. This equips them with the tools to develop their cognitive abilities and face challenges without fear of failure. Here are some age-appropriate tips to teach problem solving for kids.
Problem Solving For Kids of 3 – 6 years
One of the most important parts of problem-solving for kids is emotion management. Often, when kids encounter challenges that frustrate them, they throw a tantrum. They won’t consider finding a logical solution to the problem in the middle of a tantrum. Teaching them to process and control their emotions helps them think and find a solution easily.
Once they are calm, help them brainstorm solutions by asking leading questions. Once they learn this process, you’ll find that they tend to practice problem solving skills rather than throwing a tantrum.
Problem Solving For Kids of 6 – 9 years
By the time they are six years old, kids learn to control their emotions better. But they still can get frustrated when faced with challenges they cannot overcome. It’s a great idea to help kids find the root of the problem. This makes it less intimidating and helps them understand the problem, which makes it easier for them to solve the problem.
Kids at this age are quick learners. Help them learn problem-solving skills using stories, creative play and activities. Teach them some problem solving strategies for kids by acting out scenarios.
Problem Solving For Kids of 9-11 years
Children at this age are better equipped to solve problems on their own. However, problems only get bigger as we grow older and their solutions become equally complex too. One great way to solve a difficult problem is to break it down into manageable steps or smaller chunks.
For example, if your child has a low grade in history, find out why? Maybe they didn’t submit the assignments on time. So help them make a list of assignments and tackle them one by one.
Reading stories and crafting are great activities to instill problem solving skills in a child. Often, children tend to give up if they find a problem too challenging. The characters of a story and their trials and the end product of crafting teaches them to embrace the challenge and persevere until they finish. Here are some great ideas for crafts for kids to teach problem solving for kids.
Benefits of Performing Problem Solving For Kids:
- Problem-solving activities build self-confidence and self-esteem in a child
- Problem-solving games help children to develop a positive attitude towards life
- Problem solving for kids is necessary to build solid social and emotional skills in the kids
- These problem solving games and activities improve the child’s confidence, critical thinking skills, logical reasoning skills and perseverance.
Problem-Solving Activities And Puzzles For Kids:
- Introduce Problem Solving For Kids Using Rubix Cubes : Rubix cubes are one of the best ways to introduce your child to problem solving for kids. As they patiently align the multicolored blocks, children learn a few key problem-solving skills. Rubix cubes are square-shaped, 6 sided blocks with multicolored cubes. These blocks come in 3×3, 6×6, or 9×9 grids. Rubix cubes are available in stores and online. The cubes and different grids are twisted and turned in different directions to ensure all the colors are aligned. This can be a little challenging initially, but once your kid gets a hang of it, they can easily solve the Rubix cube in a couple of minutes. Solving Rubix cubes enhances the child’s brain activity and boosts their logical thinking skills.
- Crossword Puzzles Are One Of The Best Problem Solving Activities for kids: Crossword puzzles are a brilliant vocabulary game that helps children improve their vocabulary skills along with problem-solving skills. Crossword puzzles are available in books, newspapers and online. These Word Search Puzzles for Kids contain square-shaped blocks that are horizontally and vertically aligned. Some of the blocks may be filled with letters while the rest of the blocks are empty. These puzzles are solved with the help of the hints that are given alongside the puzzle. Crossword puzzles for kids help children find the solution on their own to a particular problem by looking at the hints.
- Jigsaw Puzzles To Help Children Learn Problem Solving In A Creative Way : Solving jigsaw puzzles are a very popular activity to build problem-solving skills in kids. These puzzles are available for kids of all age groups ranging from 3-12. Jigsaw puzzles contain several wooden or cardboard pieces along with a board and an image for reference. Kids should connect the puzzle pieces to create a replica of that reference image. Solving jigsaw puzzles is a fun and engaging activity to enhance your kid’s problem-solving skills. To make this activity more interesting and challenging, ask your child to solve the puzzle in a certain amount of time. This activity boosts the child’s critical thinking, logical reasoning skills and builds their patience.
- Learn Problem Solving By Navigating The Maze: Navigating or finding the best route through a maze is a wonderful game to stimulate your child’s brain. This game involves a maze with many routes to reach the destination. The child should navigate through the maze and find the best route to reach the destination. For example, the rabbit wants to eat the carrot but there is an impossible maze between the hungry rabbit and the carrot. Your kid must help the rabbit find the easiest and quickest route to his carrot. Children can use pencils or crayons to trace the route through the maze. Some of these routes might be blocked or have an obstruction. In such situations, they have to start all over again to find the best route. This activity can get frustrating at times, but it is one of the best ways to enhance your child’s problem-solving skills. Additionally, this problem solving activity helps boost the child’s logical thinking skills and build patience. It also teaches them to not give up and try again until they succeed.
- Teach Problem Solving For Kids With Simple Coding Games: Coding for kids is a great tool to teach problem solving for kids. It is not just an activity meant for adults or older kids anymore, younger kids can learn the basics of coding too. Coding games are great tools that improve the child’s problem-solving skills. You can choose from the myriad simple coding games and activities available online for young kids to learn the basics of coding. These coding games for kids mostly involve the fundamentals of math, which also boosts their mathematical skills. Kids can also learn different computer languages like HTML, X, C++, Java, Python, etc. If your child is a computer geek, then look no further. Coding games are a great way to turn your kid into a computer whiz to improve their coding and problem solving skills.
Kids are taught to solve simple puzzles and games from a young age. These simple learning activities are great tools to build a solid foundation for problem-solving skills. Not only are they fun to play with, but they also teach children to find an optimum solution to a particular problem. These games and puzzles also help in enhancing their logical reasoning and critical thinking skills. These skills are necessary to build problem-solving skills in kids.
Problems are aplenty in our lives. From math problems to emotional problems, we all have them. The best thing we all can do is learn to tackle them efficiently so that they don’t affect us.
Osmo has a wide variety of activities for kids to do at home, games and worksheets for kids , alphabet coloring pages on several topics to aid in your kids learning – math activities for toddlers.
Frequently Asked Questions on Problem Solving For Kids
What are the advantages of problem solving for kids.
The advantages of Problem Solving For Kids are that it helps them to improve their social and emotional skills, develop their critical thinking skills, confidence, logical thinking abilities,and determination.
What are the activities that help kids to solve the problems?
The activities that help kids to solve the problems are solving crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, learning problem solving by working on the maze, solving simple coding games, solving rubix cubes, etc.
Why is Problem Solving Important in Child Development?
- Skills Spotlight
All students can learn how to become adept problem solvers! Discover why problem solving is so important in child development.
Children develop problem-solving skills at different rates; nevertheless, it is imperative that children learn to tackle problems with grit and creativity, especially as they learn to cope with setbacks or resolve conflict. Moreover, problem solving is one of the most important skills children can develop, because it prepares them to face increasingly complex academic and interpersonal issues as they mature.
Experts agree that the ability to meet challenges confidently is “a critical skill for school readiness.” In many cases, children learn by watching parents or caregivers solve problems.
This article will explore three benefits of learning problem-solving skills at school:
Improved Academic Performance
The earlier children begin solving problems, the more ready they are to deal with bigger challenges as they mature.
By introducing problem solving skills in the classroom, children learn to think in terms of manageable steps as they:
1. Identify Problems
2. Brainstorm Possible Solutions
3. Test Appropriate Solutions
4. Analyze Results
By viewing problems as opportunities to grow, children broaden their understanding while building confidence.
The classroom is a safe, controlled environment, with experienced teachers who direct students as they hone problem-solving skills.
Good schools know that problem solving is important in child development. Therefore, we incorporate problem-solving exercises into a wide range of classes. Marlborough’s goal is to ignite intellectual inquiry by combining problem solving with creativity, collaboration, and communication, thereby empowering our students to become actively engaged global citizens .
We ask our middle school girls to solve various types of problems; thus, they develop flexibility. Since our students regularly practice problem solving, they dramatically improve their academic performance.
Problem-Solving Skills Improve Academic Performance
One reason that problem solving is important in child development is that it teaches discernment, helping young people distinguish what is a solvable problem.
Problem solving also develops grit, a trait that successful students routinely display.
Often, it takes an entire team to solve a problem. Since it can feel intimidating to collaborate or ask for help , the classroom is a perfect space to take risks. Together, students learn how to ask determining questions, such as:
Why is this situation so challenging?
Do I know how to address the problem?
Who can help me find a workable solution?
Students who learn how to solve problems have a deeper understanding of cause and effect. Teachers often urge students to look for patterns or make predictions. Problem-solving skills, then, boost reflective, critical thinking.
At Marlborough, we foster practical, analytical thinking through individual and collaborative school projects. Here are two middle school elective courses that show how problem-solving skills lead to academic success:
Middle School Debate teaches the art of research, deliberation, and argument. Students consider both sides of a question, discussing realistic solutions, and presenting their findings with clarity and eloquence.
Crime Scene Investigation: CSI Marlborough synthesizes biology and chemistry as students learn about forensic science. Students systematically solve problems by investigating a fictional crime, securing the crime scene, gathering detailed evidence, testing hypotheses, identifying potential suspects, then solving the case.
Problem-Solving Skills Build Confidence
Solving problems means making choices. Typically, effective problem-solving skills result in “happier, more confident, and more independent” individuals.
When children tackle problems on their own, or in a group, they become resilient. They learn to look at challenges from a fresh perspective. Therefore, they take more calculated risks.
Problem solving is important in child development because confident, capable children usually grow into confident, capable adults. <
If students practice problem solving consistently, they can develop greater situational and social awareness. Additionally, they learn to manage time and develop patience.
As students mature, problems they face become more complex:
How do I make lasting friendships?
How can I bring justice to my community?
Which career suits my abilities and interests best?
Marlborough recognizes the need for practice; no one masters problem solving overnight. Consequently, we offer a wide range of courses that teach middle school girls how to solve problems in the real world.
Here are a few middle school electives that focus on critical thinking, thus enhancing students’ confidence:
Makers’ Space 1.0 introduces middle school girls to original, school projects that they design, then create with hand and power tools.
Tinkering and Making with Technology invites girls to play with electronics + code. They learn the basics of electronics, ultimately completing an interactive and/or wearable technology project.
Drawing and Animating with Code uses text-based computer programming to teach girls to write code and create computer graphics drawings or animations.
As students develop their problem-solving skills, they learn to rely on independent, creative thinking, which enhances their sense of independence; these skills, then, prepare students for life and future careers.
Problem-Solving Skills Prepare Students for Future Careers
Children who learn how to solve problems when they are young tend to appreciate lifelong learning. They are curious, motivated, and innovative.
Employers want new hires to think imaginatively, especially since many problems that society faces today are new.
The push for school STEM programs in schools reflects this trend. For instance, coding requires students to envision a goal, then identify logical steps, and plan ahead. Coding also requires persistence, which means that students must be able to power through failure.
Notwithstanding the need for personal excellence, employers also really want team members. Taking classes that encourage group problem solving can be invaluable as students look ahead to college and careers.
As a result, our students participate in academic teams that build leadership through problem-solving activities, including these middle school elective courses:
VR and Animation is a project-based class that invites middle school girls to create a virtual reality (VR) theme park attraction with interactive artwork and digital designs.
Robotics classes allow middle school girls to design, build, program, and operate a robot. Our students also participate in the national FIRST Tech Challenge.
Marlborough is preparing girls to enter the workforce. Problem solving is important in child development because it trains young people to think independently and to collaborate. Marlborough’s graduates are ready to enter adulthood because they know how to solve problems.
Why Choose Marlborough?
Marlborough serves girls in grades 7 through 12. We are a private, college-preparatory secondary school, conveniently located in the heart of Los Angeles, California.
Our goal is to ignite intellectual inquiry and to build the problem-solving, creativity, collaboration, and communication skills that our students will need to innovate, invent, and lead in college and beyond.
If you want your daughter to become a curious, agile thinker, consider Marlborough. We will enhance your daughter’s problem-solving skills, helping her gain an academic edge as she builds confidence and prepares for the future.
Want to know more about the Marlborough experience?
Contact us today
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Definition of problem-solving
These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'problem-solving.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback .
Dictionary Entries Near problem-solving
Cite this entry.
“Problem-solving.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/problem-solving. Accessed 5 Mar. 2023.
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5-step problem solving for young children.
- Solves Problems Peacefully
Even young children can be taught to solve their problems peacefully with these 5 steps:
Step One: How do you feel? Calm down. – Often when we encounter a problem, we feel frustrated or angry. Before we can solve our problem, we need to know how we are feeling and calm down. There are different ways to calm down; we could take a break, take three deep breaths, use " milkshake breathing [ 1 ] ".
Step Two: What is the Problem? – We need to know what the problem is before we can solve it. Why do you feel angry or upset? Remember this problem belongs to you, not other people.
Step Three: Come up with Solutions – It is helpful to think of as many different solutions to the problem as possible. Not every solution will work. A solution might work one time but not another time. The more problems you solve, the easier it is to think of solutions.
Step Four: What would happen? – Think about what would happen if you chose each of the solutions you came up with. Is the solution safe? A safe solution means no one will be hurt or upset. Is the solution fair? How will everyone feel?
Step Five: Try the Solution – Choose a solution. Try your solution. Did it solve the problem? If the solution does not solve the problem, you can try one of the other solutions you came up with.
Lesson Plan: Solving Problems Peacefully
Background & learning outcomes:.
This activity [ 2 ] is written for children ages 4-6 for a child care setting, preschool, kindergarten or in the home. It can be adapted, however for other ages. By teaching children basic problem solving steps and providing opportunities for them to practice this skill, children can become competent problem solvers.
- Large paper and marker for writing solution ideas
Teaching and Learning Activities:
Introduce the topic of "problems." Ask children to share problems they have had recently. You can add your own examples of problems you have had or problems you have observed in the classroom.
Explain to the children that they can become expert problem solvers by using five problem solving steps.
Introduce and briefly explain each of the problem-solving steps.
Pick an example of a problem the children shared. Work through the problem with the children using the five problem solving steps.
Step 1: How do you feel? Calm down. Ask the children to identify how they felt or how they might feel if this problem happened to them. Ask them for suggestions to calm down. Practice ways to calm down, like taking three deep breaths.
Step 2: What is the Problem? Ask children to describe what the problem is. Help children to reframe the problem so it is defined as their problem, not someone else’s problem. For example: “I want to use the red crayon,” instead of, “they won’t share the red crayon.”
Step 3: Come up with Solutions. Encourage children think of as many solutions as possible. In the beginning, you may need to help them with solutions. Write down the possible solutions. The focus at this step is just to generate as many solutions as possible, not to evaluate solutions.
Step 4: What would happen? Ask children to think what would happen next if they chose a solution. Is the solution safe? A safe solution means no one will get hurt. Is the solution fair? How will everyone feel? Have the children go through the solutions they generated and think about what would happen next. Role playing the solutions can help children understand the possible consequences.
Step 5: Try the Solution. Have the children pick a solution to the problem. Will the problem be resolved? The chosen solution can also be role played.
- Accompanying each step with a visual cue is helpful, particularly for children with limited verbal skills.
- Depending on the age and attention span of the children, practicing the problem-solving steps using an example problem can be split into different lessons. Start by introducing the five steps in the first lesson, then in each subsequent lesson, practice one step.
- Role play different solutions to problems with children to help them understand the consequences of solutions.
Once children have been taught these five steps to problem solving, they need opportunities to practice using them. These follow-up activities reinforce the problem-solving steps and provide practice opportunities:
Post visuals of the problem-solving steps in the room where they are visible for children to refer to on an ongoing basis.
Return to the problem solving steps regularly. Have the children provide other examples of problems they have encountered or create hypothetical problems that are relevant to their lives. Work through these problems as a class, using the problem solving steps.
When problems arise in the classroom, remind children to use their problem solving steps and guide them through the process. As they become more competent problem solvers, they will require less assistance to work through the steps.
Role model effective problem solving for your child.
Select children’s books where the characters encounter a problem. Ask the children how the character in the story could solve their problem. Encourage a variety of solutions. Have the children act out the problem and possible solutions. Book examples include:
A Good Day (2007) by Kevin Henkes. Bird, Fox, Dog, and Squirrel are not starting their day off very well. However, with a little patience, they find that they are able to overcome minor setbacks in order to have a very good day after all. Ages 0-6.
Bobby vs. Girls (accidentally) (2009) by Lisa Yee. Bobby and Holly have been best friends for years, until a disagreement threatens to break them up for good. However, when their argument accidentally sparks a full-out war between the boys and girls in their fourth-grade class, they must come up with a way to return things to normal. Ages 6-12.
- Conflict Resolution
- Early Years
- Middle Years
Learn more about "milkshake breathing" and ways to teach children this and other important calming skills.
Adapted from: Joseph, G.E. & Strain, P.S. (2010). Teaching Young Children Interpersonal Problem-Solving Skills. Young Exceptional Children, 13, 28-40.
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The activities that help kids to solve the problems are solving crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, learning problem solving by working on the maze, solving
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Introduce the topic of "problems." Ask children to share problems they have had recently. · Explain to the children that they can become expert problem solvers