The last time you drove your know-it-all babysitter home, you were not so subtly informed that your child is lacking in problem solving skills. As if he shouldn’t have had that tantrum when she ate the last piece of his birthday cake!
You have to admit, though, that the meltdowns have been a little too frequent lately. Whenever your little one encounters a challenge, she doesn’t have a clue how to deal with it. It’s a rare case of agreeing with your babysitter: your child needs help learning to solve problems.
You’d love to get started on teaching those preschool problem solving skills. The only problem is: you don’t know where to start.
You’re pretty good at solving problems for other people — by now you’ve become an expert at finding your spouse’s lost keys — but how do you teach a four-year-old to solve problems for himself? The answer can be found in the following Parent Primer on Preschool Problem Solving Skills.
Think of it as a short course with guaranteed results. PPPPSS 101, if you will. Pssst: here’s a little secret. There won’t be a T (test) at the end!
Now, don’t get discouraged by the word, “primer.” Maybe you say “pry-mer” and I say “prim-mer.” Either way, please don’t call the whole thing off! (Fans of George Gershwin — or anyone over the age of 75 — will know what I’m talking about.)
A primer is just a brief introduction. This one is designed to get you “primed” to teach problem solving skills to your problem child, and it will make those conversations with your babysitter so much more pleasant.
Why not start at the beginning, with the letter “P”?
P is for Problem
Situations that can be problematic for preschoolers include turn taking, sharing, frustration, disappointment, teasing, and waiting. You know, the same things that are problems for us adults.
Before your child can learn to tackle a problem, she will have to come to an understanding of what a problem is. So whenever you see your little one struggling with something, you can help her put the situation into words, and then identify it as a problem.
For example: “You want this cookie but you haven’t had dinner yet. That’s a problem.” (You can relate to this one all too well.)
Or: “You’d love to play in the pool but we’re all out of sunscreen and Daddy’s got the car. That’s a problem.” (Just don’t use “Daddy’s got the car” every time, or you might have a problem with Daddy.)
R is for Routine
Young children can learn to problem solve naturally during routine day-to-day activities (with help from Mommy or Daddy). There’s nothing like those “teachable moments” to drive the lesson home.
Let’s say your child’s beach ball just bounced over the fence into Mr. Crabby’s back yard. Turn that into a teachable moment. Label it as a “problem” and then let your ball bouncer know that problems can be solved.
(Something like this happened to you once. Your hat blew off and landed in Mr. Crabby’s rose bushes. You waited until Mr. Crabby wasn’t home to retrieve your hat. Your plan would have been perfect, except for that pesky security alarm.)
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I is for “I could …”
In other words, brainstorm with your little idea-monster and come up with several possible solutions. This gives your child time to calm down and get out of frustration mode. It also encourages him to start thinking critically, or outside of the box, when needed.
Your child might say something like: “I could … ring Mr. Crabby’s doorbell and ask him nicely for my ball.” “I could … just go buy another ball. “I could … ask you to climb over the fence and get my ball.” (Don’t worry, as a parent, you do have veto power.)
M is for Modeling
Try demonstrating smart problem-solving skills in the vicinity of your child. (Or, as they say, actions speak louder than words.)
Remember that your little monkey is likely to imitate what you do, so it’s critical that you model being hopeful and reasonable when faced with a problem of your own. Next time you’re in the throes of frustration, stay calm and verbalize the steps you’re taking to solve the problem.
By the way, shouting “We’re about to go bankrupt!” probably isn’t a good example of using your words to model problem solving. Try looking excited and saying something like, “We’re going to need a stay-cation this summer!” instead.
M can also stand for Materials, such as puzzles, building supplies, and books. The classic book, Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina, is a cute account of someone trying many solutions until finally (and accidentally) coming up with one that worked.
E is for Emotional
Expand your preschooler’s emotional vocabulary by using words like “frustrated,” “angry,” “sad,” or “disappointed” to describe what she may be feeling.
When we can put our feelings into words, we’re more likely to relax, take a step back, and come up with rational solutions instead of acting out physically to release those difficult feelings.
Don’t I know it! Saying the words, “I’m so disappointed” after seeing the price of groceries has saved me countless times from having a tantrum in the supermarket. It’s even more effective while ripping my losing lottery tickets to shreds.
R is for Results
Make sure your preschooler tries out one or more solutions that he thought up during the “I could …” step above. Talk about what happened afterward. If the results weren’t satisfactory, help him to see the benefit of trying other solutions.
Learning the process of problem solving is just as important as getting a wanted result – even more important, because the process can be applied to a multitude of situations in your child’s future.
And remember not to hover over your child, coming to her rescue for every little thing. Once you have helped her learn to identify problems and have exposed her to the problem solving process, give her time to feel her feelings, express them, and brainstorm solutions on her own.
So there you have it, a preschool problem solving skills primer, from P to R. Problem solved!