It’s not uncommon for children to argue over a toy or become frustrated when they are told “no.” Fighting and aggression—whether it’s in the form of name calling, pushing, hitting, or refusing to share—are common responses when children lack problem-solving skills.

It’s important to teach young children the value of playing cooperatively and getting along with others. Teaching your child how to solve problems and conflicts is a skill that will help them throughout their lives.

What does problem-solving look like?

Children use problem-solving skills every day, whether it’s choosing what shoes to wear to pouring their own glass of water when they are thirsty. But when it comes to social relationships, such as those with friends, siblings, and family, it might not always be clear to children how to appropriately respond to challenges.

Young children may need to learn how to problem solve:

  • Sharing toys
  • Calming down when they feel angry or frustrated
  • Communicating what they want or need

The truth is, as parents, we can’t be there to help solve every problem for our children. But we can give them the tools they need to solve problems on their own.

Problem solving for preschoolers

Teaching problem-solving skills to preschoolers takes lots of practice and repetition. But when used consistently, your child will eventually be able to tackle problems on their own!

  • Name the emotions: “Are you feeling upset? What else are you feeling?”  Remember, if you can name it, you can tame it.
  • Calming needs to happen before the strong emotion moves to the rational part of the brain used for problem solving.
  • Name the problem: “Grace is playing with the car and you want to take a turn.
  • Affirm your child’s feelings and experiences: “It’s frustrating when you both want to play with the same toy at the same time.
  • Problem-solve: “I can tell that you are very excited to take a turn with the car. What could you do?
  • “Yes, you could ask Grace if you can take a turn. If you asked and  she says ‘no,’ then you could ask again in a couple minutes. If she still doesn’t want to give you a turn, you can ask an adult to help you.
  • Try to come up with a couple of solutions to the problem.
  • Talk about the pros and cons of each solution.
  • Test out one of the solutions.

Other helpful tips include:

  • Watch for growing frustration and try to catch it early.
  • Help your child recognize for themselves when they start to feel frustrated.
  • Help them name the emotions they are feeling and give them words.
  • Show your child how they can calm themselves down.
  • Model patience: Show your child that it is OK to make a mistake.
  • Use creative play or role playing to practice making requests.
  • Read stories frequently about friendship and friendship skills, such as sharing.

Problem-solving for school-aged children:

With your help, have your school-aged child “talk” themselves through their problem. Support your child as they ask themselves:

  • What is the emotion I am feeling?
  • What is the problem or challenge I am facing?
  • What solutions are possible?
  • What are pros and cons for each?
  • Which do I want to try first?

Other helpful tips include:

  • Teach your child calming strategies, such as deep breathing or counting slowly to ten.
  • Help them learn and remember the calming skills that work best for them.
  • If your child is reluctant to talk about the problem or come up with a solution, get creative. Have them draw or paint a picture of what they are feeling.

There are lots of “pros” when it comes to teaching problem-solving. For instance, kids with problem-solving skills are less likely to make impulsive choices (such as hitting or throwing a toy). Problem-solving can also help with managing other emotions, such as fear and anxiety. It’s a skill that will benefit your child’s social and emotional growth and carry with them throughout their life.

On April 20, Parenting Now! will present a free Discussion Group for parents on Child Aggression. Pre-registration is required: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/discussion4-19

This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com).  Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website (https://parentingnow.org/) or contact us at info@parentingnow.org


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