How to Raise Children Who Solve Their Own Problems

The ability to solve problems is an important life skill, which can equip a child with the ability to bring about a change not only in her own life but in that of others as well.

By Arun Sharma

How to Raise Children Who Solve Their Own Problems

Kids build ‘scrappy’ newsroom to solve civic issues — The Times of India (5 Nov 2017)

An innovation lab by kids, in the middle of a slum — The Hindu (11 Apr 2017)

Teen powers change, helps buildings, schools recycle 350 kg of batteries — The Hindustan Times (1 May 2017)

All the above headlines highlight instances where children rolled up their sleeves and decided to find a solution to a problem. But, what prompted them to take up the initiative and come out in flying colours? Did they feel more responsible than others? Did they relish the idea of intervening and setting things right? Were they looking for an opportunity within the problem? Perhaps, all the above and more.

It starts with the problem

Everyone agrees with the fact that problems in life are aplenty, and they seem to keep getting bigger and bigger as we grow up. From an infant bursting into tears at papa making a funny face to a teen fuming at the non-availability of Internet — problems seem to follow us at every stage of life.

But, no matter how vexed we are with problems, the silver lining is that every problem has a solution. Yet, not everybody can solve problems. For, only those who have acquired the problem-solving ability and practised it can come up with good, viable solutions. Others are either unable to come up with a good solution or wait for someone else to set things right for them.

Importance of developing the problem-solving ability

Have you ever wondered why, in a group of individuals trying to come up with a solution to a problem, some fare better than others around them?

The answer lies in the fact that those adept at solving problems have highly developed critical and creative thinking abilities. Both these abilities play a vital role when it comes to solving a problem. While creative thinking helps an individual sense a problem and pinpoint or define it, critical thinking helps to analyse the problem, come up with various possible options and evaluate them to zero in on the best one.

Therefore, when parents teach their children problem-solving skills, they are, in fact, honing their critical and creative thinking abilities. Some other important benefits of learning to solve problems are:

  • It develops logical-reasoning and lateral-thinking skills
  • It helps foster independence and responsibility
  • It helps build confidence and self-esteem
  • It teaches collaboration and the importance of teamwork
  • It develops language skills, as both the problem and the solution must be expressed in words
  • It prepares children to face the challenges of life

Attributes of a problem-solver

Along with training our children to solve problems, we should develop in them the qualities of a good problem-solver. Here are some characteristics of a quintessential problem-solver.

  • Has a positive outlook
  • Looks at a problem as an opportunity
  • Analyses the situation from multiple angles and identifies the problem
  • Breaks down the problem into simpler, smaller parts
  • Interacts with others and listens to what they have to say
  • Is persistent and has a never-say-die attitude
  • Comes up with different solutions and narrows down on the best one
  • Has the courage to take the decision and implement the solution

How to teach problem-solving skills

In her article, ‘Problem-solving skills begin in preschool’, published in the Michigan State University Extension (2012), Gail Innis says, “Problem-solving is learned by children in the same manner they learn nearly everything else: children watch adults, experiment with and practice ideas, and come to conclusions.”

It is important to begin teaching children how to solve problems early on. Here are some things you should do to help promote problem-solving ability in your child.

1. Foster creative thinking: This skill helps an individual look at things from many perspectives. As a result, he can sense an anomaly and pinpoint it.

How to do it: Challenging your child with puzzles and quizzes, engaging in imaginative play, giving him the chance to make choices, encouraging him to collaborate with others are some of the things you can do to develop creative thinking in your child. You can also read our article, ‘How to Encourage Lateral Thinking in Your Child’, for some simple but effective ideas.

2. Encourage critical thinking: The ability to think in a critical manner helps in analysing a problem by breaking it down into smaller chunks.

How to do it: Ask your child open-ended questions about a problem. For example, “What is your idea?” or “How would you solve this problem?” Also, encourage your child to come up with solutions by thinking in different ways, teach him about cause and effect, and let him try really hard before you intervene and help him with the solution.

3. Teach how to associate with the past and recall: Associating the problem in hand with similar situations in the past and recalling the experiences can go a long way in analysing the problem and coming up with solutions.

How to do it: Read a book and ask your child to recall an incident from the story or relate it to a similar incident he may have read or heard about in the past. You can ask your child to relate any one of the characters to someone around him. Do this exercise, a couple of days later as well.

4. Teach how to recognise patterns: Everything around us has a pattern. The staircase, the leaves on a branch, the stars in the sky, the chirping of birds, the sound of crickets — everything occurs in a certain symmetrical manner. Once a child learns to recognise patterns, she will be able to predict with great accuracy what may occur next.

How to do it: Start by familiarising your child with simple patterns, for example, the leaves on a branch, the weave of a fabric, or the rhythm in a song. Once she has understood it, make her do exercises like sorting clothes according to colours or sorting toys according to their sizes, and arranging numbers and letters of the alphabet in a certain sequence. This will help her look for a pattern in everything she comes across in her daily life and recognise one when she finds it.

5. Focus on one problem at a time: When trying to solve an issue, if your child comes across multiple problems, ask him to focus on one at a time. Trying to fix everything together can prove frustrating and may also result in failure.

How to do it: Give your child a simple task like fixing an old, worn out book. Sit with him and divide the task into small parts like, first fixing all the pages that are torn with the help of adhesive tape, then checking to see if all the pages are in the correct order, then covering the book with a brown sheet.

Children constantly use their thinking skills to understand what’s happening around them. Their never-ending questions seek to make sense of why things happen in a certain way, how and why situations change and how to adapt to them. This active thinking shows that they are trying hard to understand the relationship between cause and effect, how and why people see things differently, how to discuss with them, how to experiment with ideas and test them out. In learning to describe, discover, express themselves, listen to others, try out new things and apply new learning, they are practising good problem-solving skills. —*Arundhati Swamy

Lack of ability to solve problems can be disadvantageous to us. We will not be able to diagnose problem, or use a methodical approach to solve issues. It can even cause us to misinterpret information, and render us incapable of using tools to correct the situation. It can also affect our relationships with those around us.

Now that you know how important a skill problem-solving ability is, and how you can teach this skill to your child, get down to helping your child inculcate it. But, while you do this, remember that it takes time to learn and perfect any skill, so be patient and creative and have reasonable expectations.

*Arundhati Swamy is a counsellor and the Head of Parent Engagement Programs at ParentCircle.

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