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How to Encourage Kids to Solve Their Own Problems

upset child leaning against window

Mom? Mommy? Moooooooom? Do your kids have your name on auto-repeat, ready to whip out when a problem arises? If so, it might be time for you to start taking a few steps backward so your kids can begin handling issues on their own.

As a parent, it can be difficult watching your kids struggle, and sometimes the sound of your kid’s bickering drives you to intervene so that you can get a little bit of quiet. However, always stepping in when your kids are having a tough time can be a detriment to their development. Letting kids learn to navigate disagreements and tough tasks teach your kids how to handle the rough stuff when it doesn’t matter as much.

You don’t have to toss your kid into the proverbial pool without a lifejacket, though. Here are a few tips for making sure the kids develop problem-solving skills:

Ask Questions

Expecting kids to solve their problems when they’ve never been shown how is a bit like asking a medical student to perform open heart surgery. While walking kids through a problem can take longer, it’s better for you and your child.

Before you take over the task that they are having difficulty completing, see if you can help them by asking questions or talking them through the process.

Try questions like:

  • Can you tell me what’s giving you a hard time?
  • Why do you think this isn’t going well? (A nice way of asking them to identify what they are doing incorrectly).
  • What do you think you can do to handle this better?
  • What would happen if you tried XYZ?

Homework Troubles

If your kid comes home and tells you he has a science project due the next day and he hasn’t started, now would be a good time to let him figure out how to get it done. It’s natural for parents not to want their kids to fail, but sometimes, it’s better when they do. College professor, and author, Laurence Steinberg, told Psychology Today that parents should only help with a tool the kid cannot use easily, lack of understanding on what the homework assignment is asking for, or on explicit instructions from the teacher.

As much as you want to jump in and help your child finish their project last minute, they’ll learn more by having to figure out how to handle their lack of time management skills.

Play Problem-Solving Games

Many board games allow players to work together cooperatively to solve a significant problem. Games like Cauldron Quest and Outfoxed are good for younger kids (under 10), while older kids and teens might like Cahoots or Pandemic. In each game, players work together for a common goal. This is a great way to let kids figure out what to do in a stress—free situation. You can even talk them through your thought process or ask for their ideas when it’s your turn to play. You can find a lengthy list of co-op games on A Mighty Girl.

Emotional Mishaps

Disappointment, heartbreak, and hurt feelings are a little tougher to let your kids handle. You don’t have to let them stew in their sadness or frustration, but you don’t have to fix the problem either. For example, if your kid loses a talent show, bad mouthing the judges or the other contestants won’t make the loss any easier. Instead, try focusing on things they enjoyed about the talent show (being on stage, receiving applause, beating stage fright, mastering their talent, etc.,). If they’re frustrated about how they performed, ask them what they didn’t like and how they could improve it for next time.

When to Step In

Sometimes you need to get involved. If there is bullying involved or other safety concerns, don’t hesitate to get involved. It’s also important to consider your child’s age and emotional maturity. Your child may even ask for your help. However, even if they don’t ask, you can usually tell when your child is feeling overwhelmed by watching their body language.

Common situations that may trigger a need for you to step in include:

  • A play-date that gets too physical
  • Teasing by family members or adults who mean well, but your child is taking it personally
  • Forced affection (hugs and kisses from adults, even family members, when your child is uncomfortable or resistant)
  • Pressure from friends or family members to break a house rule

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to protect kids, but it’s also essential that they learn how to handle problems on their own so they can develop critical thinking skills that will help them in relationships and jobs when they are adults. Be mindful of each situation, so you know when it’s fine to let them tackle something alone, and when you need to step in and help.

Angela Brown Angela Brown
Angela has 14 years of writing and editing experience, including as a reporter and copy editor for two newspapers. Angela has a Bachelor's in communication with minors in creative and technical writing from BYU-Idaho. She works closely with real-estate and financial industry clients. Read Full Bio »
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