How you think about a problem is more important than the problem itself—so always think positively.
—Norman Vincent Peale

When kids have a problem, they sometimes find it hard to see a possible solution. Since most parents don’t want their 30-something children coming home whenever they experience a crisis, part of your parenting job is to help your kids understand that there are actually several possible solutions to any given situation. It’s usually a matter of choosing the best one and making it happen. Here are tips to help your kids think positively and creatively about even the toughest of dilemmas.

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Help preschoolers work through their feelings about interpersonal conflict. Ask each child to name his feelings and try to understand how the other child might feel. Say “Can you think of some peaceful ways to solve the problem?” Suggest (but don’t demand) solutions if children can’t come up with any of their own.
    • Not all problems are interpersonal. When your child can’t find the part to a toy, engage them in strategies for effectively and purposefully looking for it.
    • Help children learn the skills they need to deal with peer pressure or bullying, such as saying “No, I don’t want to do that” and walking away. Teach them that if that doesn’t work, they should find an adult to help them.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Do puzzles and other fun problem-solving activities with your child. Learning problem-solving strategies from games-playing teaches life-long lessons.
    • If your child has a difficult decision to make or a problem to solve, help make a pros and cons chart that lists the good things and bad things about various choices. Then use the list to help your child chose an action to take.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • The difference in problem-solving styles at this age is often gender-related. Boys are likely to go straight to solving problems, while girls sometimes just need to vent awhile. Help both learn that there may be no ideal solution to a given problem. Their job may then be to take time to weigh the various imperfect options, choosing the best among them.
    • Develop problem-solving skills in your kids by designing creative scenarios for them to solve. For example, choose a place you visit regularly (such as your child’s school), and tell your child you want to figure out the fastest and most convenient route for getting there. Help your children explore bus routes, driving and carpooling options, walking, biking and light rail routes. Compare the findings, and choose the mean(s) that work best for you.
    • Ask your children’s teachers what they do to promote problem solving in the classroom, especially in team projects. If this isn’t currently an area of emphasis in the curriculum, point out that problem-solving skills are something you’d like your child to work on and ask if there are ways you can help.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • The way you solve problems in tough moments helps define your real values, the ones you live and don’t just talk about. When you model positive problem solving skills under stressful conditions and encourage your teens to solve problems on their own, you are making a great parenting investment.
  • Teach your teen this clear-cut (although not necessarily easy) process for solving problems:

1. Define the problem. Set a goal for what you want to change.
2. Brainstorm as many options or solutions to the problem as possible.
3. Write the pros and cons of each and evaluate how well each would probably work.
4. Choose an option and make a plan to carry it out.
5. Take action. Review your plan and make sure it continues to be a good one for the situation.
  • One of the most important decisions that teens this age must make concerns their post-high school education and future direction. Help teens treat this decision as a problem-solving situation. Ask them to brainstorm the pros and cons of their various options. Encourage them to take notes on the things they like and dislike about colleges or technical schools they visit or hear about and then talk over their findings with them.
  • Standing up for one’s principles, even if the fallout from friends’ reactions is negative, is one of the characteristics of a mature problem-solver. Support your teens as they articulate and defend their values, even if they suspect it may make them unpopular. They are far more likely to earn their peers’ genuine respect in the end.

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