Teaching Problem Solving: Responsibility and Independence

cropped children giving

Problem solving opportunities can be found everywhere.  You don’t have to wait for major problems to occur in order to effectively teach your child.  In essence, all problem-skills work on the same principle, regardless of problem size.  Once you feel confident your child has mastered the previous steps, it is time to use those skills in real-life situations.  By doing this, you give your child responsibility for solving her own problems and you foster a sense of independence that will give him confidence in his ability. Let’s look at some situations you can use as learning opportunities.

At Home

*Allow your child to make his own decisions about what clothing he will wear.  Begin by letting him choose from 2 or 3 appropriate outfits.  Show him how to find out the weather and decide what clothing is most appropriate.  Move forward to letting him choose on his own

*When your child’s room needs cleaned, allow him to decide the method to use, what areas to clean first, what items should be kept and what is trash.  Guide him the first couple of types and help him learn what criteria you expect to be used, but allow him to determine how to achieve that goal.

*As he approaches school age, giving your child an allowance and determining how much should be saved, donated and spent is an excellent way to help him learn how to best spend money, as well as learn to wait for things he wants.  Once a year, allow him to decide what charity to donate his saved donation money to. Allow him to decide how to spend the spending portion of his allowance.  He will learn that if he buys candy, he’ll have to forgo the toy he wants.  He’ll learn to assess each spending situation to determine how to get the things he wants.

At the Park

*Don’t quickly jump to interfere in squabbles over who gets to play with what or who goes first.  If the situation escalates, step in to guide those involved in making a decision, but don’t tell them how it should be.  They will learn from each other and will surprise you often on how well they can solve the issue.

Other Situations

*Your son tells you he’s bored.  This is a perfect situation to guide him through solving the problem and finding something to do.  At first, you may have to help with suggestions, but gradually reduce the number and allow him to think of things.  Eventually, it can get to the point where your only suggestions is “Sit there and twiddle your thumbs.” and it is a sure bet he won’t stay bored for long.  Remember your parent’s suggestions always included work- weed, clean, put things away?  That tactic speeds this bit of problem solving right along 🙂

*Choices are necessary in order to solve problems.  Some things, like homework, need to be done but allow your child to decide whether to do it right after school, or to miss computer or TV time to complete it later. Brushing teeth is a must, but brushing right after the last meal of the day or just before bedtime is a choice.

Natural Consequences

Life itself is often the best teacher.  Every decision you make has a consequence so allow your child to experience these natural consequences.  It is better to do this when he is young and you can keep him from making decisions that may harm him.  He wants to build a snowman and yet doesn’t want to wear gloves.  His hands get cold.  He has a problem.  Ask him what he could have done to prevent that problem–wear his gloves.  Often problems result from choices and it is necessary to get that across to your child.

Looking Ahead

Next time, as we near the end of this series on problem solving, we will discuss how teaching these skills to your child is one of the best gifts you as a parent can give your child.


Thomas Learning Centers provides NECPA accredited preschool and childcare at the most affordable rates in the Denver Metro Area.  Check us out at http://www.thomaslearningcenters.com , click on the offers below, drop in for a visit to get to know more about us. We’d love to meet you!

Call  877-938-1442 for general info

Lakewood 303-237-0917 or Westminster 303-427-8831


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