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How To Teach Problem Solving Skills To Children

A Parent Recently Asked

So many parenting problems could be resolved if the children knew how to solve problems. This article is all about teaching children the problem-solving skills that they need to conquer a lot of their own problems so that they don't have to handle absolutely everything. 

I don't think we ever stop learning problem-solving because problem-solving is basically just learning and understanding the law of cause and effect. And then making choices for ourselves based on what we've observed. In this article, we're going to talk about how the brain solves problems. And then we're going to talk about 4 productive processes for teaching problem-solving. Well, I feel like I just did a tongue twister there.

That was enough. That was a mouthful. Anyway. So, we're going to teach these 4 productive processes. And I'm saying productive because sometimes we solve problems in non-productive ways. So, everybody's solving problems all of the time but that doesn't necessarily mean they're doing it productively. Or in a way that's going to help them or anybody else in the situation. So, let's talk about the brain. The brain solves problems in 1 of 2 ways. 

Emotional VS Logical Problem Solving

It either solves problems emotionally or it solves them logically. The emotional part of the brain which is in the middle of the brain is the oldest part of the brain. And that's usually the part of the brain that people have a habit of going to first when there's an emotion. So, when a car is coming at them, what's the first thing their brain does, it triggers fear, right? That's the first emotion. When somebody takes something away from them but they from a person that they weren't planning on somebody ripping that toy out of their hands, emotionally what's the first thing that happens? The person feels mistreated and angry. 

So, that's how our emotions solve our problems. But I'm guessing if you're read this article, you want to not get trapped in the emotional ways to problem-solve. And that's good. Because we're going to be talking about how to use logic to solve problems and how to turn off some of that emotion so that it doesn't get in our way of making good choices. The front part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until a person is in their early 20's. So, this means that the person needs help for a very long time. Probably less and less as it develops in solving their problems.

When you have a small child, say a baby or a toddler, they're learning basic lessons of cause. And effect if I drop this roll off of my highchair tray, then somebody's going to pick it up and put it back on my tray. Or somebody's going to say, "Oops, we don't drop things." And it's going to be the same way every time. They're learning. They're learning but their prefrontal cortexes are so tiny. So, for a person to be really good at solving problems, they have to learn how their brain communicates emotionally and logically with them. And they have to choose to shut off the emotional reaction and proactively make choices going in a logical direction.

Memorizing Key Skills For Success

So, how does a person do that? There are 4 productive processes that you can do yourself and that you can teach your children to better facilitate good problem-solving skills. The first process is memorizing key skills for success. These key skills that we teach in our home are called the 4 basic skills. The book that I'm most known for Parenting: A House United talks about these four basic skills in great detail.

It also talks about other skills that parents need if for some reason the child doesn't use these four skills properly. And these 4 children's books each teach children the 4 basic skills in a way that they can relate to. They rhyme, they're so much fun. The 4 basic skills that we teach the children are following instructions, accepting no answers, accepting consequences, and disagreeing appropriately. Each one of these 4 basic skills has a skill set attached to it.

This means that it's not just one thing that a person thinks of. When I think of following instructions, I think of 5 things. I have to look at the person, keep a calm face voice, and body. Say, "Okay" or ask to disagree appropriately. Do the task immediately and then check back. So, when someone says to me, "You need to follow the instruction. Here's the instruction", I immediately go look at the person, keep a calm face, poise and body. Say, "Okay" or ask to disagree appropriately, do the task immediately and then check back. That sort of seems like the Tin Man from Wizard of Oz, doesn't it? But anyway, that's what goes through a person's mind really, really fast.

Those skills are liberating because they help a person break down exactly what they did right and exactly what they did wrong so that they know where to improve the next time. So, if my child knows all 5 of those steps to follow instructions. And then I say, "Now, go do this instruction." And they just go, "Okay." And they walk away to do it. I can say to them, "I'm so glad that you were willing to go and do the instruction but you missed some steps, right?" What steps did they miss? They looked at me but they did not keep a calm face voice and body. And they did not say, "Okay" or ask to disagree appropriately.

They rolled their eyes, they said, "'kay". And then they turned to go and do it. I would actually have to correct that because they didn't do all the skills properly and it's showing that their condition of the heart is not in the right place. Our behaviors and what we choose to do with them are directly related to our condition of the heart. If I feel that my child's heart is not in the right place and that there's some sort of a disconnection there or a lack of unity, that I know that we have to correct the problems. A child of just about any age can use the 4 basic skills.

Obviously, they're easier to learn when you're a little bit older. And when I took foster children into my home, it took them 1 day to master all 4 of those 4 basic skills because they were all between the ages of 12 and 18 when they came to stay with us for treatment care. But even my children when they have been just tiny even younger than 2 have been able to master all of these skills. I recently went home because sometimes I do that I go on home visits to people's houses and teach them how to implement self-government in their homes and families.

I recently went to a home and they had a 2-year-old son. He was barely 2. And he was able to learn all 4 of the 4 basic skills. There is nothing cuter than hearing a 2-year-old say "May I disagree, (May I disagree appropriately?") And then, the parents say yes. And then for the child to say, "I know you don't want me to have a duty but I want one." It's so cute. And it shows so much self-control. It's amazing to me how in our society and even here on YouTube, we make these articles making fun of our children's bad behaviors.

We almost congratulate each other for how attitude and sassy our little children can be when in reality it is so much cuter when a child decides to have self-control and know how to communicate with others. So, any age child can use these 4 basic skills and they are one of the key production processes to learning to problem-solve better. 


The second productive processing tool that we use with our family is something called SODAS. And I don't mean like a drink. But it's an acronym that stands for Situations, Options, Disadvantages, Advantages, Solution. This is a problem-solving exercise that we write down to help us see what we aren't seeing. It's really hard to stop troubling behavior if you keep seeing the situation the same every single time. 

There are always things that are not seen. We have to try to see those. So, when we do a SODAS exercise, the parent provides a situation. The situation ends right before a decision is going to be made. So, what parent may say something like, "Mom, said no TV watching." But I really want to watch TV. They haven't made a decision yet but they know how they feel and they know what they should and shouldn't do so then what are the options? Well, there are multiple options.

There's not just should I watch it or shouldn't I watch it? But here's what else could I do? Can I call a friend? Could I disagree appropriately with mom about it? And there are disadvantages and advantages for each of those options that we pick. So, often a child only sees the disadvantage to making the right choice and the advantages to making the wrong choice. This is why they get stuck in a cycle of making the same wrong choices again and again and again. Who am I kidding? It's not just the children that don't see all of the disadvantages advantages and additional options that they could choose. We all do it. And that's because we aren't taking time to deliberately analyze the situation better. That's what SODAS exercises help us do.

Good Correcting

Number 3, good correcting. If a person is going to learn how to problem-solve well, they have to be okay with being corrected. This means you have to have a correction style that happens in your home that feels safe and productive. That's why I call it a productive process. Correcting is just another teaching moment. It doesn't mean anybody's been bad, per se. They might have made a bad choice. But that's just something that needs to be talked about. We need to point them in the right direction. There needs to be a feeling of love and acceptance during this correction.

But there need to be clear messages of what happened and where they need to be going. When we correct children, we have a certain process that we go through that focuses heavily on describing and proactively teaching instead of reacting emotionally to children. This is where parents usually start ruining the correction process.

So, a bad correction is one that just involves the emotions of the person making the correction or even the emotions of both people involved in that interaction. A good correction brings light on the situation and where everyone can see the truth and feel more liberated and united because of the experience. 

Productive Pre-Teaching

Number 4, productive pre-teaching. These production processes are not even possible without the process of pre-teaching. This means that the parents need to teach their children ahead of time. These are the skills that we are going to use as a family. And this is why. Because we want to learn self-government over ourselves. We want to have a greater bond and love and connection in our family. We want to become the best versions of ourselves. 

So, these are the skills we're going to use. And when things don't go right, these are the skills we're going to use to help ourselves get back on the same track. These are the negative consequences that will be used every single time. I'm not going to make them up to try to hurt you or get some emotional reaction out of you.

Because that would be manipulation. Instead, I'm going to decide we are going to use extra chores every time for these situations because work is the antidote for a sick character. That's what we use in our home is extra chores a lot. Especially because a person has to choose to do those things. That's another important part of problem-solving, is recognizing that the choice is always up to you. If we're going to raise good problem solvers, we've got to prepare them.

We've got to teach them the skills that they need. And we've got to give them the empowerment to make the right choices. When the whole family is making deliberate decisions together for how they want to communicate and solve the family's problems, you're going to have fewer power struggles. 

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