Advice & Tips, Parenting

Teach kids problem solving skills: Ordinary parents 5-step guide

Have you ever wanted to help your kid a bit too much, when they have struggled to solve a problem? I know I have, especially when I have been in a hurry and felt I did not have the patience to wait.

I think we all learn best from the everyday experience of solving problems that are meaningful to us. As a parent, it is helpful to observe those moments when children have problems and help them think about ways to solve their own problems. Anticipate problems before they escalate and help children identify possible solutions.

As parents, we can help children learn how to collaborate, cooperate, communicate, negotiate, self-advocate, and respect others.

Why should you teach kids problem-solving?

We all encounter problems in our lives. I think it is very helpful for both our kids and us as parents if we taught our kids to solve their problems peacefully. If we have the tools and we know how to use them, the tools will come in handy in a lot of situations. Maybe it can help to reduce the frustration and anger and help us to focus on the actual solutions instead to save and gain some energy.

One way to teach kids problem-solving is to help them to follow the basic procedures in engineering and science. But before anyone is able to solve a problem we all need to calm down. Often when we encounter a problem, we feel frustrated or angry. Before we can solve our problem, we need to know how we are feeling and calm down.

To be able to solve a problem, first, you must identify what it is. When you know what the problem is, then you can think about what kind of solutions there could be. Is there only one solution or more?

When you have thought about which solutions are there, maybe it is time to think further: What happens if…? The next step is to start trying the solution(s) out. Which one is the best one? Do you get different results depending on which solution(s) you try out?

Problem-solving recipe:

  1. Calm down
  2. Identify what the problem is
  3. Think about solutions
  4. Think about what will happen if…?
  5. Try the solution(s)

How do you help your kids to build problem-solving skills?

As a parent, I really want to help my kids to build up their problem-solving skills. But to be able to do that, they need opportunities to practice using them. Here are a few ideas for some follow-up activities where you can reinforce the problem-solving steps and provide practice opportunities:

  • Put some visuals of the problem-solving steps on the refrigerator door, where they are visible for children to refer to on an ongoing basis.
  • Try to return to the problem-solving steps regularly. One way to do this is to let your kids provide other examples of problems they have encountered, or you could create hypothetical problems that are relevant to their lives. Then you can work through these problems, using the problem-solving steps.
  • When problems arise, remind your kids to use the problem-solving steps and guide them through the process. As they become more competent problem solvers, they will require less assistance to work through the steps.
  • Show how you do it, i.e. role model effective problem solving for your kids.

  • Read children’s books where the characters encounter a problem for your kids. Ask them how the character in the story could solve their problem.  Encourage them to think of a variety of solutions. Then have your kids act out the problem and possible solutions.

How do you help your kids to build social problem-solving skills?

Let’s use the problem-solving recipe above to see if they can help to encourage your kids to solve social conflicts peacefully.

Step 1: Calm down

We can’t solve any problems if we are upset.

Practice clear communication – Step 2: What is the problem?

Most of us parents are not mind-readers, so to help our kids to communicate their thoughts and feelings with others, we need to teach them how to state directly how they are feeling in a particular situation. Identifying the source of conflict is an important step to be able to help in the right way.

One technique is the “I” statement: “I feel _______ (insert feeling word) when _____ (share what caused this feeling).” These statements open up the door to honest communication, authentic apologies, and creative problem-solving. Here are some examples of how “I” statements can be used in different social situations.

  • I feel mad when my big brother plays with my toys without asking me first.
  • I felt sad when you didn’t include me in your team when we were playing soccer.
  • I got upset when I realized you had not kept your promise.
Encourage problem-solving – Step 3: Think about solutions

Empower your kids to come up with solutions when you are helping them to think through a conflict with someone. Maybe there are several solutions to the same problem?

Encourage problem-solving – Step 4: Think about what will happen if…?

Ask open-ended questions such as “What could we do to make the situation better?”; “What would be a fair solution?”; “What’s one thing you could do to help your friend feel better?” Let them use their imagination: “If you could wave a magic wand and fix this problem, what would it look like?”. If your kids are able to imagine an outcome, they will likely start to take steps to reach that goal.

“Tell a grown-up” – Step 5: Try the solution(s)

I feel it is important to remind kids from an early age, that there are times they can solve problems on their own, but there are also times when it is very important to get help from others like a parent, teacher, or another trusted adult.

Especially if kids feel unsafe, if someone is hurting them physically or emotionally, if they see someone else being hurt or if they have tried to solve a situation independently but it didn’t work, they should always “tell an adult.”

Talk about how to disagree respectfully

When trying out the solutions, I think it is important to remind our kids that sometimes friends don’t agree on certain things – and that is okay. Even people who like each other a lot can have different opinions, likes, or interests. But even when we disagree, we must treat other people with respect and dignity.

In short, that means we DO NOT call people names, ignore them, yell at them, or hit them. That means we do look for solutions that respect both parties. It is important to apologize when our actions hurt someone else, and we do treat people with kindness.

Summary of how to teach kids problem-solving skills

First of all, to be able to solve a problem we all need to calm down. I think that often when we encounter a problem, we feel frustrated or angry, and before we can solve our problem, we need to know how we are feeling and calm down. 

If we don’t know what the problem is, we can’t find a solution for it. Therefore it is important to identify what the problem is and practice clear communication: “I feel _______ (insert feeling word) when _____ (share what caused this feeling).

If we know what the problem is, are there more ways than one to solve it? Let your kids think about different solutions, and let them think about what will happen if…? to encourage their problem-solving.

The last step is to try the solution(s). Is it possible for your kid to solve the problem themselves, or do they need help? Encourage them to “Tell a grown-up” if they need help and also talk about how to disagree respectfully with other people.

Problem-solving recipe:
  1. Calm down
  2. Identify what the problem is
  3. Think about solutions
  4. Think about what will happen if…?
  5. Try the solution(s)

What do you think? Is the technique for problem-solving useful? Do you use it yourself? Let me know by sharing your comment below!



It is so important to teach our kids problem solving skills. Staying calm is great advice. I especially like your idea of putting the problem-solving steps on the refrigerator door. I’m going to share this with my daughter. Appreciate the article!

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