The Importance of Problem Solving and How to Teach it to Kids

Updated: January 29, 2020
Life Coach Tami Green weighs in on the number one skill parents should teach their kids: problem solving. She offers five tips and tricks parents can do everyday to help their children become better problem solvers for life.
building problem solving skills in children

Teach your kids to be brilliant problem solvers so they can shine.

We get so lost as parents with all the demands to do more for our children—get better grades, excel at extracurricular activities, have good relationships—that we may be overlooking one of the essential skills they need: problem-solving.

More: A Parent’s Guide to Conscious Discipline

In a Harvard Business Review study about the skills that influence a leader's success, problem-solving ranked third out of 16.

Whether you want your child to get into an Ivy League school, have great relationships, or to be able to take care of the thousands of frustrating tasks that come with adulting, don't miss this significant super-power that helps them succeed.

Our kids face challenges daily when it comes to navigating sibling conflict, a tough math question, or negative peer pressure. Our job as parents or teachers is not to solve everything for them—it is to teach them how to solve things themselves. Using their brains in this way is the crucial ability needed to become confident, smart, and successful individuals.

And the bonus for you is this: instead of giving up or getting frustrated when they encounter a challenge, kids with problem-solving skills manage their emotions, think creatively and learn persistence.

With my children (I have eight), they often pushed back on me for turning the situation back on them to solve, but with some gentle nudging, the application of many tools, and some intriguing conversations, my kids are unbeatable.

Here are some of the best, research-based practices to help your child learn problem-solving so they can build smarter brains and shine in the world:

Don’t have time to read now? Pin it for later:

1. Model Effective Problem-Solving

Mother and daughter talking together solving problem

When you encounter a challenge, think out loud about your mental processes to solve difficulties. Showing your children how you address issues can be done numerous times a day with the tangible and intangible obstacles we all face.

2. Ask for Advice

son asking father for advice

Ask your kids for advice when you are struggling with something. Your authenticity teaches them that it's common to make mistakes and face challenges.

When you let them know that their ideas are valued, they'll gain the confidence to attempt solving problems on their own.

3. Don't Provide The Answer—Ask More Questions

mother and young child talk together

By not providing a solution, you are helping them to strengthen their mental muscles to come up with their ideas.

At the same time, the task may be too big for them to cognitively understand. Break it down into small steps, and either offer multiple solutions from which they can choose, or ask them leading questions that help them reach the answers themselves.

4. Be Open-Minded

dad and son bonding on a beautiful day

This particular point is critical in building healthy relationships. Reliable partners can hold their values and opinions while also seeing the other's perspective. And then integrate disparate views into a solution.

Teach them to continually ask, "What is left out of my understanding here?"

High-performing teams in business strive for diversity—new points of view and fresh perspectives to allow for more creative solutions. Children need to be able to assess a problem outside of immediate, apparent details, and be open to taking risks to find a better, more innovative approach. Be willing to take on a new perspective.

5. Go Out and Play

millennial family with young children outside

It may seem counter-intuitive, but problems get solved during play according to research.

See why independent play is vital for raising empowered children here.

Have you ever banged around an idea in your head with no solution? If so, it's time to get out of your mind and out to play.

Tech companies understand this strategy (I know, I worked at one), by supplying refreshing snacks and ping pong tables and napping pods. And while they have deadlines to meet, they don't micromanage the thinking of their employees.

Offer many activities that will take your child’s mind off of the problem so they can refuel and approach things from a fresh perspective.

Let them see you fail, learn, and try again. Show your child a willingness to make mistakes. When they are solving something, as tricky as it may be, allow your child to struggle, sometimes fail and ultimately learn from experiencing consequences.

Problems are a part of life. They grow us to reach our highest potential. Every problem is there not to make your child miserable, but to lead them closer to their dreams.

Tami Green, America’s most respected life coach, has received magical endorsements by experts from Baylor University and the past president of the American Psychiatric Association. She received her coaching certification from Oprah's enchanting life coach, Dr. Martha Beck. She is a brilliant coach who has helped thousands achieve an exhilarated life through her coaching, classes, and conferences. To see more tips like these, visit her website and join her self-help community here.