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Developing students’ problem-solving skills

By Susan Hayes

Hartselle City Schools

Federal Programs Coordinator


Parents and teachers are partners in developing students’ academic skills, and most are well aware of that when each school year begins.

Parents and schools are also partners in developing students’ social problem-solving skills. When problems arise in the life of a child, it is tempting – and usually most expedient – to simply take care of the issue at hand. It’s a better course, however, not to rush to solve a child’s problems for him.

If you see your child struggling with something, allow your child an opportunity to figure it out before helping. Here are some considerations:

  1. Model problem-solving for your child

When you face an obstacle, think “out loud” about your next steps. “Well, I wish I could ___, but that’s not possible. And I would ___ if ___, but that’s not going to be possible either. With the options I have, I believe I will ___. Though it’s not exactly what I want, it’s the best outcome in the situation I am in.” Your child needs to see and hear you going through the steps. He/she will begin to emulate this behavior.

  1. Practice problem-solving with your child

When your child asks you to solve something for him/her, press pause. Instead of providing an answer, ask more questions. “Well, if you ____, what good thing might happen? What bad thing might happen? Can you think of a better solution? Do you have all the information you need to make this decision?” Questions such as these build problem-solving muscles. With younger children, you can offer two or three possibilities and then talk those through in much the same way.

  1. Share a think-out-loud book

Consider reading books with your child that are designed to present problems and help

parents and children together talk through solutions. “Solutions for Cold Feet” is one such book, but there are many others.

  1. Allow for natural consequences

When children are allowed to experience natural consequences, it can be an effective discipline strategy that teaches problem-solving skills. This means you allow your child to make a choice and then face the negative consequences. Of course, make sure there are no safety concerns. This can lead to a discussion about problem-solving to help him/her make a better choice next time. Consider these natural consequences as a teachable moment to help work together on problem-solving.


On paper, all of this seems wise; in practice, though, it’s difficult not to step in and rescue children from the consequences of their own actions or to simply take care of matters and move forward through our busy days.

In the end, though, we must help our children think for themselves and make reasonable choices. They won’t get it just right every time – none of us does. But these tools will help them grow into resilient adults.