Fight that urge to help your little one: let them problem-solve!

As parents, you want your kids to succeed, and it can be difficult to hold back when you see them headed for failure. However, jumping in and finishing the job for them now can actually hold them back later in life.

The ability to problem-solve is a crucial skill, one that is increasingly necessary as kids become adults. 


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Why is it particularly important to develop problem-solving skills at a young age?  

1. It is the time when a person’s brain is growing the most rapidly and so is the prime time to develop such skills (and significant lost potential if not). 

2. It is an essential life skill which allows children to springboard in all elements of life.

3. As children are able to complete bigger and trickier tasks on their own, their confidence, independence and resilience grows as well. 

So we all know that problem-solving is important, but how do we encourage it? 


Also read: Future skills: Problem-solving and handling conflict

We spoke to Andy Bassingthwaighte, Principal of Table View Preschool and Creche, who says that parents might be thinking that schools teach these skills through planned activities, but it is not a heavy focus on development during those limited time periods that really builds skills.

"It is a constant focus and attention on the kids throughout the day," she says. "We spend time thinking about natural problem-solving opportunities and find that they often come during snack time, naptime and outdoor play."

"Specifically, we place attention on identifying and re-framing possible problems as problem-solving opportunities and encourage parents to do the same. This takes focus, patience, and a long-term view on the outcome of solving the problem (by allowing the child to develop the necessary skills)," she says. 

Here are two simple steps that she follows: 

1. Identify and re-frame problems and simple tasks that children carry out as problem-solving opportunities

2. Where you think the problem is too big for a child to solve, do not solve it for them, but assist little by little until it is small enough for them to solve it by themselves. 


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Below are some examples of these kinds of problems and how they can be addressed to encourage problem-solving: 

Lily is in a big public space and needs to throw her sucker stick away 

Doesn’t encourage development of problem-solving skills: Lily gives it to her mom who throws it away 

Encourages development of problem-solving skills: Mom asks Lily to throw it away. If Lily can’t find a bin, mom encourages Lily to scan different sections of the grass by pointing her hand and moving it along until Lily can see a bin.

Jo falls off her chair, knocks her milk over and cries 

Doesn’t encourage development of problem-solving skill: Dad either reprimands Jo or soothes her and cleans up for her. 

Encourages development of problem-solving skills: Dad soothes Jo and encourages her to pick up the chair and clean up the milk.. If Jo cannot find the cloth, Dad walks from cupboard to cupboard with her asking if she can see it inside.

Athi wants to add water to his food to cool it down 

Doesn’t encourage development of problem-solving skills: Granny shouts at Athi when he adds a little water to his food 

Encourages development of problem-solving skills: Granny asks Athi why he is adding water to his food. When he explains his intentions, she lets him add a little more and asks him if is a good solution. If not, she asks if he can think of another one.

Of course, a lot of this is easier said than done when you have a constantly busy and exhausting toddler with endless 'problem-solving opportunities'.

"Although it is not possible to have the time and patience to consider every situation with a problem-solving approach,"Bassingthwaighte says, "attempting to re-frame problems like these even a small percentage of the time can have a huge effect on children’s problem-solving skills, confidence and independence, as well as turning parents’ frustrations into moments of pride. 

So fight that urge to help your little one, let them problem-solve. 

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