- Encourage Curiosity. All children go through a “Why?” stage. While that can tax our patience, we should be more concerned about children outgrowing their desire to understand why the world works the way it does.Problem solving often involves targeted research to find the information we need to develop innovative solutions. Use kids’ innate curiosity to teach them research skills. In fact, one of the best responses we can give to a “Why?” question is simply: “Let’s find out.” These three words tell children that you honor their curiosity and take their questions and interests seriously. It also shows that there are ways to find answers.
- Don’t Rescue, Reframe. When your elementary-age child comes to you with a problem — from a school science fair project to a social concern — resist the urge to step in and solve it for them. Instead, help them clarify the problem and brainstorm ways that they can solve it. Phrases such as these can help kids reframe challenges into opportunities:
- Tell me more about the situation.
- What have you already tried? What happened? What did you learn from that?
- What’s one thing you can try that you haven’t tried already? Let’s brainstorm a list of possibilities.
- How would so-and-so (a teacher, a classmate) describe the problem?
- If you had a magic wand, what would you do to change the situation?
- What information or skills do you need that you don’t have yet?
- Honor Tenacity. Tenacity is the ability to stick with a problem and approach a task with determination. It’s what gives us the strength to try, try again.
Recently, my three-year-old wanted to climb onto a piece of playground equipment — a dinosaur rocker — that was a bit too high for his frame. He approached it from multiple angles, trying to boost himself again and again. Finally, he spotted a big rock nearby, lugged it over, and used it as a stepping-stone. While it was fun to ride on the T-Rex, that was nothing compared to his delighted cry of, “I did it, Mommy!”
We honor our kids’ tenacity when we acknowledge the hard work they put into a project, when we give them time and space to experiment and when we don’t do for them what we know they can do for themselves. We encourage tenacity when we honor the effort they put into solving a problem. This might sound like, “You put a lot of hours into learning that song on the piano!” or “That was a challenging puzzle, but you stuck with it!”
- Look for Cues and Clues. Kids who are good problem solvers are also great observers. They take stock of the situation. They look for materials they need. They pay attention to the clues and cues around them. If your child is struggling with something, encourage them to press pause and take another look at the situation. What do they notice? Do they need to read the math problem again and look for key words? Is their block structure missing a support beam? Do they have a friend who can collaborate with them who might have new ideas to offer?
Spending time in nature is one way to strengthen kids’ observation skills. Take a nature walk and encourage them to use their five senses. What do they see? What do they hear? What do they smell? What textures are around them? What clues can they find about they types of creatures who live in the area — what they eat, where they live? What “Why?” questions can you generate together?