Raising Children To Be Problem Solvers

I was walking out of the community college that I teach part-time the other day and overheard a one-sided phone conversation that left me shaking my head in disbelief.

A male student of about 18-19 years of age was walking out of the building behind me and had just called someone. As he was walking behind me, I heard his side of the exchange: “Mom, I’m so dumb. I left my notebook at home.” The student continues to walk outside and into the parking lot. As I got into my car, I noticed he had walked all the way across the parking lot – I assume, to wait for his mother to either a) pick him up or b) drop his notebook off.

So many thoughts went through my head but the one that came out in capitalized letters was simply this: Where in the world was this young adult’s problem-solving skills?!??!

From the time that little bundle of joy is placed in our motherly, protective arms, we dedicate our lives to raising that little human to the best of our ability. Amidst all the various and differing parenting styles, I think we can all agree that we desire to raise independent, self-sufficient children that will become motivated, successful adults in society. However, as my jobs require me to communicate with children and young adults, these are characteristics I don’t see often – as the student previously mentioned demonstrates!

So how do we raise our children to be the problem-solvers life demands us to be? I love the book Love & Logic because it outlines a variety of ways to parent and discipline our children without resorting to aggressive punishments like spanking and yelling all the time. Here are a few pointers I’ve learned in the past (nearly) 6 years of parenting that are rooted in the practices of Love & Logic.

Give your child choices as early as possible.

Babies and toddlers learn extremely quickly what they can and cannot do. Their desire for independence and making their own decisions develops very quickly and, instead of squelching their autonomous spirit, we can mold and enhance it in the proper direction by presenting them with two choices. These choices are ones that we, the parent, present to them and are okay with. By allowing our child the opportunities to make choices early on, we are teaching them life skills. These skills will develop and allow them the ability to think through more difficult choices as they mature and grow older.

It’s super easy to incorporate in your day-to-day interactions with your little one, too. If you have trouble and fights at bedtime, choices offer a distraction. Do you want Mommy or Daddy carry you? Do you want to brush your teeth first or put your pjs on? Do you want the door open or closed? All of these “choices” that you lay out to your child encourages their brain to go back and forth and pick the option that they best like. This also gives a small child the allusion of being “in charge”. Kids love being in charge, and we can give them that experience within the boundaries that we set as their parents.

I’ve learned that by implementing this type of decision-making has had two positive outcomes for my young kids. First, I can usually avoid a full-blown tantrum by “distracting” them with the presentation of choices. And secondly, they begin to give themselves choices. My almost 6 year old son has already shared experiences at school where he had to make a choice and, I am proud to say, many times he makes the right one! If this is a skill he’s already implementing in his short life, I can only look positively at the future and his choice-making abilities.

Encourage problem-solving by asking them the following question: What do you think you should do?

This is a great response for when your child comes to you with a problem they can’t seem to figure out. Issues with siblings or friends can be dealt like this. This kind of question gives them a chance to stop for a minute, stop thinking about how they’ve been “wronged”, and consider ways to improve the situation. It allows them to think from other points of view rather than having tunnel-vision of only their own feelings. They also end up talking through the situation and lo-and-behold, they come up with a solution! I love watching my son’s face light up when he figures out how to handle a situation – he becomes very proud of himself and as his mom, I know how much he is benefiting from developing these types of skills.

In the aftermath of a mistake or poor choice, respond with: How can you make this better?

When first hearing this question, your child will most likely reply with, “I don’t know.” This is because they haven’t directed their brain to think beyond the immediate action that’s been done. As parents, we can assist our children in making decisions by presenting them with 2-3 options – ways that they can make amends for whatever “wrong” they just did. If encouraged to think about how they can “fix” the situation, children learn to understand that their actions have consequences. Honestly, I think this might be harder on the parents than the children!

I remember the first time I asked my son this. He was 4 ½ and had just broken a snowglobe that I’d had for many years. It took everything I had not to lose it, and I barely got the question out of clenched teeth: “How can you fix this and make it better?” He looked at me like I’d grown two heads. I could see the resignation in his little face, the readiness for the yelling he was sure to happen. And then the stuttering started. “Uh…I…I don’t know.” We both looked down at the broken glass and water on the floor. I asked him another question: “Well, what do you think needs to happen?” His eyes lit up. “I can help clean up!” I nodded, and after cleaning the glass, he helped me soak up all the water on the floor. Utilizing this question over the past few years (and now using it with my 2 ½ year old) has prompted my son to suggest ways he can make things better all on his own. Problem solving in action!

Use empathy, not anger.

I briefly mentioned this above, and it’s probably one of the hardest changes to make as a parent. So often we react with anger, raising our voices and shouting at our children for their behavior and blunders. It’s instinctive, almost a primal reaction that we think will alter our children’s future behavior. But it’s been my experience that it ultimately doesn’t change anything and just adds tension to the house. I fail numerous times on this front, unfortunately, and constantly need reminders to use empathy in teaching my children.

Even in the midst of a temper tantrum, using empathy allows you as the parent to remain calm and silently tells your child that you are in complete control of the situation. If they want to kick and scream in the middle of the store, that’s their choice; when they see you unfazed by their actions, children usually realize it isn’t worth it and the tantrums slowly become shorter and shorter. Empathy requires a parent to use statements such as “This is so sad”, “You must be very frustrated”, and/or “Bummer! Things aren’t going the way you want.” And then followed up with some choice and consequence that you present to your child: You can stop screaming and throwing a tantrum or you can continue to scream in the car. What is your choice? In dealing with my 2 year old daughter’s tantrums, I created a “special place” for her to go to when she began her tantrums (this was at the bottom of the basement stairs). Her choice is simple. Stop the tantrum or she may continue crying in her “special place”. The mere mention of those words is now met with the response, “All Done!” By utilizing empathy, I’m letting my daughter know that I love her and want to be with her, but that certain behaviors are not acceptable and I don’t have to be around that. The really awesome aspect of this empathy tactic is that I can use this anywhere! I simply tell her that I will find her a “special place” if she continues. It truly does work!

Children love their parents and want to be around them. Empathy allows us as parents to separate the behavior from the child, letting him/her know that while we love them, we don’t love the behavior and don’t have to tolerate it. Ultimately, the choice is theirs!

Children need appropriate consequences for the choices they make.

A child is able to develop the understanding of “consequences” from a very early age. My youngest just turned one and clearly comprehends the word “No” or “Stop”. He gives me a look, tries the action again, and then swiftly stops when he hears my command.

Consequences following a behavior teach a child boundaries and limitations, societal foundations that every individual needs to know in order to be successful, attributing members of that society. If a young child screams and hit his/her parent and no consequence is given, the toddler instantly realizes that he/she can behave that way again with no one to get in his/her way. An appropriate consequence teaches children that certain actions and behaviors are not acceptable and will not be tolerated, and provide a boundary for children to measure their future behaviors.

Using the above tips, consequences can be presented in a variety of different ways. You can give children a choice of their consequence (i.e. go to bed early or lose a privilege; stay in your room with the door open or closed; pay money from your allowance jar or do chores). The ideas are endless! Enforcing consequences needs to be done with empathy, even as your child will obviously resist at first. When you follow through with the consequence, however, your loved one will realize that you are completely serious and will be less inclined to “test” your boundaries in the future.

Consequences also do not need to be given immediately. With older children, especially, sometimes a delayed consequence has more power than an immediate one. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I’m at a loss as to what consequence I give my kids. That’s where this phrase can become your best friend: “I’m too upset to discuss this right now. I’m (or your father and I) are going to have to think about it and we will get back to you.” A delayed punishment with older children can almost be worse than any punishment you give in the heat of the moment. It might not even take place for a few days, which I know can be hard for parents to accept. We have the tendency to think that consequences need to be swift and severe right then and there to make an impact on your kid. But think about this. A few days after the incident, your child comes up to you and asks if he can go over to a friend’s house for a sleepover. You look at him and say, “I would love to say yes, but do you remember what happened on Tuesday?” This teaches your child that repercussions from certain events don’t always occur immediately but can have a lasting impact. This would be a much more effective learning life lesson than some punishment given in anger.

I have used and applied all of these various parenting techniques in raising my children over the past 6 years. Of course, I have needed reminders (more often than I’d like to admit!) to keep my cool, and my husband has been an incredible sounding board to hold me accountable when I start to lose my patience! Being able to have someone to back you up and support you, without criticizing your failures, is such a blessing. We joke about it sometimes – when he’s about to lose it, I become very calm and reassuring and vice versa. So we balance each other out quite well. I also found post its to be excellent reminders of these strategies. I’d post them in the areas that I found myself in when tantrums struck – the bathroom, the kitchen, the toy room. It was a constant reminder to employ parenting techniques that I knew to be helpful and effective.

 

These approaches to parenting have given me confidence as a mother in raising my children. It’s is truly a comforting feeling when taking all three out in public and be assured that if one starts acting up, I knew exactly how I was going to handle it. I believe it has decreased the tension and shouting in our household (don’t get me wrong, we still yell because we are human and make mistakes!). Overall, as we deal with a new kindergartner, a daughter in the throes of the terrible twos and an immensely inquisitive and active 1 year old, I am thankful to have these tools in raising my children to be independent, self-sufficient, self-confident little beings that will grow up knowing how to problem-solve and prayerfully, young adults that are a blessing and encouragement in our society.

If you liked these parenting strategies and tips, you can read about them in detail in this book.

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11 thoughts on “Raising Children To Be Problem Solvers

  1. These are wonderful tips and I love the “choices” option as empowerment and a distraction. I completely agree with you here that problem solving skills should begin at an early age. What a wonderful post!

    • Thank you! It’s made a huge difference with my kiddos…they definitely have their tantrums (like all day today!) but at least I can keep my cool and head on me!

  2. bridget4214 says:

    So much agreement with your tips. We are navigating through this with my 3 1/2 year old now and it takes patience but it’s amazing to see the process click on it’s own…watch him solve his own problem or immediately understand that leaving toys in the hallway will have a consequence. We have been reading the children’s book “What Do You Do With A Problem?” – it’s a amazing message, have you read it?

  3. this was a super interesting read – i don’t have kids, but something i def took into consideration for the future!

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