Natural problem solvers

A typical day

You’ve just been to the grocery store. You are trying to make your way into your home with kids and groceries and everything else. Your kids are talking to you. You are trying not to drop the bags. The key is sticking in the lock. You are figuring out what you have to get done tonight. Problem-solving is an ongoing part of most people’s day. And most of the time we are pretty good at it.

Kids solve problems too

Kids are natural problem solvers. This is not to say that they are good at finding solutions. But they are inquisitive and constantly test their theories. At 9 months old a baby will try to help an adult solve a problem. They do this non-verbally by pointing to objects. By 12-18 months of age, babies are already learning how to solve some of their most important problems. They know how to get attention, how to get fed, and how to get help. They’ve learned what to do to get the reaction they want.

As little ones get older, they might stop solving their own problems. This is a learned behaviour. They could have learned that it is easier to ask adults for help. They might have gotten in trouble for doing something on their own. Or maybe they are afraid of making a mistake. When this happens, it is called learned helplessness.

Learned helplessness

Learned helplessness seems to be on the rise. University professors are fielding calls from parents. These are parents calling to assist their 20-something-year-old children to get better grades. And it doesn’t stop there. When these kids graduate and are off to their first job, the parents are still involved. At the first sign of trouble, parents call the company to fix their child’s problems. How can this be happening?

While the above examples of parents stepping in are extreme, minor examples happen daily. We want our kids to be happy. Often it is easier to solve their problems than see them upset. Yet this strategy backfires on parents. Kids who don’t learn how to handle frustration and solve their own problem can become withdrawn. They are also more likely to have a tantrum. And who wants that!

Great problem solvers win!

There are some fantastic benefits to being a good problem solver.

First, analyzing problems helps us understand what we can, and cannot, change. This helps us know where to focus our attention and energy. Accepting what we can and what we cannot change also helps reduce stress and anxiety.

Second, problem solving develops a sense of competence. It makes us feel capable and smart. We feel proud of ourselves when we are able to solve our problems.

Third, being able to analyze, accept, and solve challenges is linked to optimism. When we believe we can handle new problems and that things can be overcome, we feel good about the future. In fact, problem solving is a key component of college and other real-world successes.

Plus there is more

The benefits we listed above are just some of the internal benefits. Good problem solvers run to (rather than away) from problems. This means problems are solved faster, and with less emotional strain. People see these problem solvers as intelligent, thoughtful, and helpful.

How do you teach your child problem-solving skills? We will go over a few key techniques this week. In the meantime, let your child lead the way. It’s in their nature to solve problems.

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