You hold your breath as your child builds a complicated and wavering block tower. One more block and all his efforts will come tumbling down! Do you intervene and stop them in their efforts or do you wait and let the inevitable happen? Striking that perfect balance of guidance and learning on their own is a challenge that parents face everyday. It’s hard to watch your child fail!
Children learn to solve problems best when they ask questions, investigate solutions, make mistakes and try again. Often, they discover there is more than one answer or correct way of doing things. The problem-solving process stimulates thinking and reasoning and develops abilities that are essential for academic and personal success.
Referring back to the block tower scenario, a parent who allowed the structure to fall, but then used that incident to further discuss what happened would be enabling the problem-solving process in a positive way. Sometimes asking children open-ended questions that have no right or wrong answer helps lead them to the next step in finding a solution. “Why do you think your tower collapsed?” or “How can you make a larger base so it will not topple”? are great questions to take the young mind through the process. Encouraging children to think of solutions and trying again are the kind of guidance efforts we should strive for in learning strategies to solve problems. Of course, the strategy must match the child’s developmental level and be appropriate for the situation. One doesn’t allow a child to run across the street to realize how unsafe it is!
Be sure to give your child sufficient time to answer questions and have some control over how they are solving the problem. Allow children to make mistakes as long as they are not harmful ones. Explain that we all make mistakes and can learn from them. After a problem has been successfully solved, recap what happen. Identify the problem. List the solutions that were considered and tried. Discuss how the problem was finally resolved. Celebrate a job well done with a high five, words of praise or a special treat.
Developing feelings of competency and finding solutions to problems in a child’s everyday life are important experiences for them. Let them have some control by choosing their favorite outfit to wear, or organizing their books and toys in their room “their way”. Give them simple chores they will succeed doing and allow them “their opinion” on where to go on the weekend. Being part of the plan, helping to solve the problem, and being involved in the everyday challenges of life are essential for healthy personal-social development.