Problem Solving

Before you can teach your child Problem Solving, you will need to teach him/her how to Calm Down.

Children don’t learn skills in a vacuum. Although there is a huge amount of pressure for children to learn a vast array of skills at school, the first and most enduring lessons are learnt at home within the context of the family and parent-child relationship. Parents are a child’s first teacher.

Problem solving is a skill that you can teach your children within the family environment.

Recently, a parent said to me that her mother told her not to worry about her children squabbling and fighting. Grandma said “they’ll learn to sort it out themselves”. The mother asked me “is this right?’. I replied that children aren’t born with conflict resolution or problem solving skills. These skills need to be taught like you would teach a child to tie his/her shoe laces or use their manners. If “left to it”, most children will resort to using yelling, aggression, or withdrawal to resolve conflict because frankly that is what is role modelled for them most of the time.

Problem Solving

1. State what the problem is.

Most children (and many adults) will blame someone else for the conflict. I get children to state the problem in an objective way, without blame. Instead of saying “Jamie won’t share the ball with me”, we get to a point where the problem is stated as “we both want to play with the ball”. Blame is a dead end street, we get stuck and can’t find a way out.

2. After the problem is stated, we then have to come up with some solutions to the problem.

Children as young as 5 can usually come up with 4 or 5 solutions. It doesn’t matter to me if it is a silly solution (for example, ‘take the ball off Jamie’), because the next step sorts that out. I rarely provide children with a solution, because I don’t want them to become dependent on me to solve their problems. I want them to learn the skill and to use it.

2. For each of the solutions, ask:

  • Is it safe?
  • Is it fair?
  • How will other people feel about it?
  • Will it work?

3. Choose the best solution, and apply it.

4. Review how it worked. If it didn’t work, try another solution.

You will need to be really consistent in supporting children to learn and use this skill. It will probably take longer than a year of consistent use.

A problem solving poster from the Committee for Children can be downloaded from the following link


Narelle Smith


“As tempting as it is to fix situations for our children when it takes us all of two seconds, we are far more encouraging when we allow frustration, give verbal support, let go of results (since children often don’t care about them as much as we do) and perhaps help in a very small way, so that the child is doing much more than we are.

When children ask for help, reflect, and then ask questions. “So, you want to draw a dog? What kind of ears do you want the dog to have? Oh, the kind that point up? Show me what you mean.” You might even resort to allowing the child to move your hand while you hold the pencil, but do all you can to give ownership of play to your child, which also means allowing some activities to be left unfinished…”   Janet Lansbury


Categories: Skills for Kids


1 reply


  1. Skills for Kids – How to Calm Down – Hands, Hearts, and Minds

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