How to Help Kids Solve Their Problems

Guiding Your Child to Become a Good Problem Solver

Whether parents like it or not, children find themselves in conflicts or difficult situations. Some problems can be big for them to deal with alone and they will need your help and discipline. But, an important part of growing up is making mistakes and learning how to deal with them.

Identify the Problem

Gary borrowed an expensive name-brand sweater from a friend and took it off while he was at the park. He remembered he left it there, but when he went back, it was gone. The problem is what to do about the missing sweater and what he should tell his friend.

List Options for Fixing the Problem

Get your child to think of things that she (not you) can do to solve the situation. Even if the ideas seem terrible, do not say anything at this point. You are trying to encourage the brainstorming process.

Gary comes up with a few ideas:

  • stay away from his friend
  • tell his friend that he lent it to someone else and that person lost it
  • Gary’s brother has the same sweater, so he would give that one to his friend

Rate the Options

Use these four questions to help a child decide if the options will work:

Is it unkind? Is it hurtful? Is it unfair? Is it dishonest?

Option A would be unkind, B would be dishonest, and C would not be fair to Gary’s brother. If your child sees no problem with these options, you might want to offer some guidance.

Pick an Option

With some more thought, Gary remembers he has a sweater that he knows his friend likes. He decides he will give that sweater to him.

Make a Plan and Do It

This will be the hardest part. If your child feels anxious about telling his friend, you can offer to role-play the scenario and/or suggest he write out what he wants to say.

Gary tells his friend what he has done, with no excuses, and offers his sweater to his friend. A new problem comes up. His friend says he would prefer to have his sweater back.

If a new problem comes up, get your child to go back through the above steps and come up with a new solution.

Gary can’t get the sweater back, but he can buy a new one. He tells his friend that he can keep his sweater until he saves enough money to buy one like the one he lost. Gary saves his allowance and does as much babysitting as he can to get the money he needs to pay for a new sweater.

Evaluate the Situation

This is an important step to help your child learn from her mistakes.

What caused the problem? If Gary has a tendency to misplace or lose things, he’ll need to address his behavior.

How can he prevent this from happening again? Gary will wear the sweater around his waist next time or make sure to leave it at home. He might also have a special spot that he keeps things he borrows so they are easy to find.

How did he solve this problem? Gary tried one solution, but it didn’t work. It’s good for kids to learn that their first plan might not work and that they can come up with a new one. Gary can feel good that he was responsible for his actions and found a way to solve the problem.

Letting children solve their own problems, with your guidance, improves their self-esteem, assertiveness, and sense of responsibility. Help them to use the steps for solving problems including identifying the problem, finding and evaluating options, and making and following a plan to solve the problem. That can help them deal with conflict and anger.

References: Coloroso, Barbara. Kids Are Worth It! Revised Edition: Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline. NY: HarperCollins, 2002.