Saturday, May 18, 2013

Teaching Children Problem Solving Skills

Why is it that some people just seem to be born with better problem solving skills than others?  Sometimes it even seems like some kids are born happy (while other kids aren't!)  I would even venture to say that I was one of the kids that may not have been born "happy".  Maybe I wasn't born with the built in problem solving skills needed to be successful in life? I don't know! But I know that I experience a lot of frustration, anger, and felt misunderstood often.  For me, it's taken a lot of time and patience to learn how to handle things effectively to be successful in todays world.  It's an evolving process but I'm definitely not alone!  I'd say about half of all people are like me! It always seems like there's one in every family (not sure why that is!) that struggles more with problem solving and always seems to "overreact".  Understanding that some kids need more help with problem solving than other kids can really help create a healthier environment for your child and allow them to feel empowered and loved.  These are the kids that when they can't figure things out then they often feel inadequate (ex. these children often say, "I'm stupid!") and we can help them by giving them tools and setting boundaries in order to handle challenging situations effectively.  Here are a few ways that can help your child (and even help you as well!)

1.  Negotiation.  When a child wants a toy that another child has, he may yell because he doesn't know how to handle the situation.  Try getting down on your child's level and tell him you can tell he is frustrated because he wants a toy, then help him find a toy that he may be able to offer the other child in exchange for what he wants.  Of course, this doesn't work all the time but you are teaching the art of negotiation- a tool they will use for a lifetime!

2.  Find a new path.  I once heard a great story about a group of guys who were trying to figure out how to move a huge rock and finally decided to dig around it and let it move into the ground.  This is a great lesson for thinking outside the box and being creative to find a solution.  If your child is getting frustrated with his homework, ask him if he has utilized his resources (in an age appropriate way).  Sometimes, he can find someone to help him, or maybe even take a 5 minute break to regroup.  It may be helpful to have a little pile of index cards with reminders in case they need help....this is a step in allowing him to problem solve on his own without asking you every time.

3.  Acceptance.  What happens when you can't get what you want?  Acceptance seems like an easy answer but it takes some time to process for some children.  Think about a time when you wanted something so badly and couldn't have it.  How did you feel in the moment?  It can be confusing and frustrating.  Avoid saying things like "Relax!" (because they probably would relax if they knew how) or "It's not the end of the world" (because to them it does seem like the end of the world and they aren't sure how to handle their frustrations).  Try reminding your child of a time when they didn't get what they wanted and everything still worked out (ex. "Remember when you wanted to go fishing and it didn't turn out to be what you thought?  We later joked about the fishing trip and you didn't feel sad anymore, right?"

4.  Humor - Cracking a joke when your child is feeling angry may not help the situation because they will feel that you are not taking them seriously. However, using a little humor to distract a child can often help dissipate a frustrating situation (if you do it the right way).  Here's how...when a child is having a challenging day, try having them stand up and turn around with you and say, "Let's turn things around!" This activity still lets them know that you understand they are frustrated but makes them smile and maybe even laugh!

5.  Set a good example - What happens when you get lost or someone cuts you off on the highway?  Try using some of the above tools to handle these situations without loosing your cool.  Remember, your children are always watching and learning from you!

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