5 Key Problem Solving Skills For Your Children

 

 

You were relieved when your child said they were looking forward to returning to school after the holidays.

However everyday bliss is not always forthcoming, whether it is day 1, week 1 or mid- term, at some stage your child may return with a concern.  Perhaps a friend or friendship group has changed, a test result is not what they expected or they are overwhelmed with the amount of homework to be completed.  Your child may hold their emotions tightly to their chest during the day until your car door is opened or when they drop their school bag on your kitchen floor and say “It’s not fair, my two best friends are in the same class and I don’t know anybody in mine!”  You watch as the tears start to flow and your mind jumps ahead to school avoidance, dropping grades and a lost university pathway.  You are wondering whether to jump onto the bandwagon of injustice with them!

Before you are tempted to intervene, ask yourself the following questions. When your child’s ice cream fell out of the cone did you immediately reach into your wallet and replace it with a new one or did you allow them to grieve over its loss, empathise the situation with them, explain that at least they still have the cone and then assist them to learn what they could do next time so that it did not happen again? 

When your child is late in the morning because they spent too much time on social media and left their homework diary on the bench, do you grab your keys and rush back to school to find them as you know they need it that day and without it will be in trouble with the teacher?

Our responses and action to the above dilemmas can sometimes be summarised humorously into cartoon type parenting styles:

 

You can’t always be there at that moment of crisis or when there is a decision to be made, or when they just don’t know what to do.  Although some would like to think so or even try, we can’t always fix the problem for them by secretly phoning a friend, tweaking a situation or even demanding that your child’s needs be met.

We need to teach our children a process that they can refer to when we as parents are not available and they can be empowered to deal with the situation themselves rather than choose to be helpless in the situation and defer to you when they get home. It is our job both as parents and educators to teach them this, but we don’t do this by telling them what to do or doing things for them, we teach them a problem-solving process.

One of All Saints’ College’s regular expressions is What do I do when I don’t know what to do?  Implied within this question is that we can assist children by providing the tools and processes to problem-solve this question for themselves.

Their concerns may range from friendship issues, their study, being scared about their future or even worrying about how they are going to tell their parents something.

Whatever it is, young people who lack problem-solving skills are more likely to procrastinate or react impulsively as they do not realise the potential and possible options available to them.

By teaching them these skills, below, they can clarify the issue, brainstorm possible options and then make healthy decisions for themselves, whilst still being respectful towards others in the process. 

The more problem-solving discussions you have with your child the more you will notice that they use these techniques with less coaching from you. As they get better at solving various problems on their own, they will start to feel more confident and have improved self-esteem. Above all, an important note to remember is that ‘listening is to communication as breathing is to life’. Sometimes your young person is not seeking a solution, they just want to air their frustration with you.

Ainsley Harmsen and Sue Wilson are Psychologists at All Saints’ College, a coeducational, independent school in Western Australia.