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Raising Good Problem-Solvers

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

For parents, raising independent, confident, resilient adults should truly be our end goal. Although we hate to see our kids struggle, it’s important that we resist the temptation to swoop in and rescue them at every opportunity. Solving all of our kids’ problems for them robs them of the chance to flex those problem-solving muscles. Learning how to independently solve problems is an essential part of growing up. Starting to teach these concepts when our children are young will allow them to practice while we are beside them, and when the stakes aren’t so high. There are many benefits to honing your child’s ability to independently solve problems. Strong problem-solving skills empower teens to navigate through life’s complexities with confidence and resilience. For starters, fostering a growth mindset is the foundation for effective problem-solving. What this means is that instead of looking at failure and struggle as only negatives, having a growth mindset allows you to also look for the lesson in every situation. Of course it’s important for your teen to process feelings of sadness, grief, anger, and stress, but allowing those feelings to take over and overshadow their potential takeaway of a situation leaves them stuck in a blame, resentment, failure cycle. It starts with teaching children to embrace challenges as opportunities instead of obstacles and encouraging them to view failure as a chance to learn something. When teens learn to solve their own problems, they will gain confidence in their ability to do so. When we as parents continue to rescue them, we are giving them the message that they are incapable of doing it themselves. I’m not suggesting that we completely abandon our children in times of crisis, but encouraging independence, as appropriate for their age, at every opportunity should be the goal. According to authors Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D in their book The Whole-Brain Child, integration between the right brain and the left brain is essential for effective problem-solving. The right brain is responsible for emotion. When we are in crisis, the right brain is in charge. As parents, our job is to tune into that right brain first to calm. As our kids grow into teens, teaching them to first calm their right brain is essential. Otherwise, they will be making all their decisions from a place of emotional reaction. How do we do that? Suggest they start with taking some deep breaths or moving their bodies by going for a walk or doing jumping jacks. It might seem silly, but it works! Once they begin to calm down, the real work can begin. The first step is putting the situation into words. Naming it. Telling the “story” using language, either spoken or written, moves thinking into the left brain - the side responsible for logic and reasoning. Then once the two sides are integrated, the real work of problem-solving can begin. Next you can teach your child the steps to problem-solving. One such approach is the IDEAL method as follows:

  1. Identify the problem. This begins when they are telling the story as indicated above. Help your child clearly define and understand the problem or decision to be made. This can be done by having them ask questions, gather information, and break the problem down if necessary.

  2. Define possible solutions. This is where they brainstorm possible solutions. Encourage them to get creative and not worry about whether it's a good or bad idea at this stage. Quantity over quality is the goal.

  3. Evaluate options. Now is the time to look at each option closely, weighing the pros and cons of each possible solution. This is where we support them in critical thinking by helping them to see short-term and long-term consequences of each solution.

  4. Act on the best solution. In this step they will choose the most viable solution based on step 3. Encourage your child to create an action plan.

  5. Learn from the process. After implementation of their plan, the next step is to evaluate effectiveness. This is where having a growth mindset will serve our teens the best. If their solution didn’t have the outcome they desired, emphasize the learning that they gained from it and encourage them to try another solution.

Raising effective problem-solvers is a gift that will benefit our children throughout their lives. Learning the critical thinking skills necessary to work their way through difficult situations and make decisions is essential for success in life.


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