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How To Teach Problem Solving To Kids

Self-government cannot be learned unless a person knows how to problem-solve. In this article, we're going to talk about how to teach problem-solving to kids. The child's brain is constantly growing and changing. 

The place that we see the most growth occurs is the front part of the brain. This prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that does all of the problem-solving for the child. This is the intellectual center of the brain that logically computes things for the child. And when they're little it's so tiny. I mean, of course, the whole brain is tinier. But it's really tiny. And over time it gets bigger and bigger as they develop and grow and learn all the many things that they need to. 

So, when they're learning and growing and learning how to logically process and problem solve things, it's important that we don't load too much at them at first. So, some of the things that we do that make it hard for children to solve their own problems is we attach these terms to things that they can't break down and sort out very well. So, we say things to them like, "You have an attitude problem. You're whining." Or we say things like, "You're being disobedient." You know, that's like really broad. 

What does that mean? You know, just that means you don't like what I'm doing? Like that's all they usually compute. You don't like it. Okay, whatever it is, you don't like it. But it doesn't give them enough so that they can fix and solve those problems themselves. If a person is going to learn problem-solving, they need 4 basic skills. 

In fact, these children's books that I have right here taught one of those... They each teach one of the 4 basic skills. If a person learns these 4 basic skills, that takes care of 99% of their behavior problems. And I know because I was a foster parent for troubled teens for several years.

These were the 4 basic skills we learned and used to solve almost every single one of their problems. Everyone. Occasionally you could make another skill set if you want to. But it's not even that necessary. So, what are these 4 basic skills? This one teaches following instructions. 

This one teaches accepting no answers and criticism, accepting consequences, and disagreeing appropriately. So, they've got to learn skills. Now, here's the thing: Disagreeing appropriately? That sounds even vaguer. Or does it? Each one of these skills has a skill set attached to it which breaks down the skill. 

So, to disagree appropriately, you look at the person, keep a calm face, voice, and body. You say that you understand the other person's point of view. You share your point of view. You listen to what they have to say and then you say okay and drop the subject. It's 7 steps. But those are each individual sections of the process a person really goes through to accomplish that skill. 

So, if I have a child who says, "Mom, can I disagree appropriately?" I'm going to say, "Yes, you can disagree appropriately. But right now you don't have a calm face voice and body. So, you want to make sure you get that in check before you do that because that's one of the steps, right?" So, then if they say, "Mom, I know that you don't want me to go out and play. 

But I told Susie I would come out." That is not a calm voice face and body. And I would correct that. And I would point it out. I would say, "Paije, right now you're trying to tell me about going outside to play. But you are not doing it in a disagree appropriately way. 

Because you are not keeping a calm face, voice, and body. What you should do is you should look at the person, keep a calm face voice and body say that you understand the other person's point of view, share your point of view listen to what they have to say. 

Say okay and then drop the subject." So, that's how I can break it down for her so then does she know exactly what to fix. She did every other step to disagreeing appropriately except for keeping a calm face, voice, and body. So, now she knows that next time she disagrees appropriately, she can remember to keep a calm face, voice, and body. 

Now, of course, there are ways that we correct these skills so that they can narrow it down to which piece of the skill that they missed. But having those skills broken down in a more simple format so that they can know exactly where to change helps them solve their problems, helps them communicate more effectively. 

When I started doing foster care for troubled teens, I was introduced to a problem-solving exercise called SODAS. I wish I could say I made it up. I didn't. But it's genius. Sodas is not a drink it's a problem-solving exercise that stands for situations, options, disadvantages advantages, solutions.

So, sodas work like this: The parent gives a situation. The situation is something like, "Mom says not to have a cookie but I really want one." And then the child picks the options that they have. There are always at least 3 options. And 2 of the options are usually positive options. But usually, they could if they wanted to list. 

They could come up with probably 8 or 9 options for what to do. Besides have a cookie. But we try to keep it to 3 or 4 or you know in that neighborhood. Anyway, then they think of all the disadvantages for each one of those options. All the advantages for each of those options. And then they come up with their solution and we debrief it. 

We discuss it. And we try to go into why they think that decision is really the best. We use these problem-solving exercises for negative consequences sometimes when children have had a hard time actually problem-solving in real life. We also use them when they have to make big decisions in their life. Or we use them when children have been fighting with each other and they didn't solve a problem the right way. 

We give them the brain time to sort through that experience that they just had and come up with a new way to solve it and then of course after, we practice it. In my teaching self-government course, we talk about the importance of having deliberate meetings together as a family. 

So, in our family, we have 3 different meetings. We have couples meetings, family meetings, and individual mentor meetings each week. These meetings teach the children how to solve problems as a group and with one other person in a relationship. They are so empowering. 

When you have the opportunity to get together with a group of people bring up a problem that you see that exists and then in a very calm and organized format go through the process of solving that problem together as a group, it feels like no problem is unsolvable. Children need to know that their problems are not too big to find solutions to. 

Parents are the ones that have to set the example that those problems are easy to solve by taking the children through that problem-solving process again and again. When we have our individual meetings with the children which we call mentor meetings, we will bring up one thing perhaps that we think needs to be solved. Or maybe they'll have a concern about a problem that they want to discuss with us and how they might be able to solve that problem. 

Well, then we set goals for them. We come up with the right type of goals that are founded upon the skills and principles that they already have. And then we set those goals and they check up on the goal and how well they've done with it in the next meeting. Checking up is important. If there's no accountability, a person will not be good at problem-solving. 

So, accountability is a big part of the teaching self-government parenting system. Probably the most important thing that a person can learn if they really want to be good at solving any type of problem their life throws at them is how to analyze themselves and choose calmness. People don't like to look at themselves. 

That's probably one of the hardest things that anybody does, is examine themselves and say, "That needs to be fixed." But if you do that for yourself, you open the door to honesty, you open the door to freedom. And then you open the door to better communication. 

If a person analyzes themselves and knows how to choose calmness, how to behave and communicate calmly, then they have a vital tool that will carry them through any family meeting, any goal-setting time, any meeting with a boss, or employer, any interview. 

Any moment that they have where they need to solve a problem with a co-worker, a neighbor, a family member. The calmness is something they can hold on to. And it actually is another skill-set.

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