LEARNING TO SOLVE PROBLEMS
Executive Skills Needed: 1. Metacognition, and 2. Flexibility.
Steps to take: Even through metacognition in its most advanced form is one of the latest skills to develop, you can do problem solving with your kinds too (see for example, the widely respected program called I Can Problem Solve, by Myrna B. Shure, PhD, for preschoolers).
- Talk with your child about what the problem is. This generally involves three steps: (a) Empathizing with the child or letting the child know you understand how he/she feels. (“I can see that makes you really mad” or “That must be really upsetting for you.”), (b) Getting a general sense of what the problem is. (“Let me get this straight—you’re upset because the friend you were hoping to play with can’t come over.”), and (c) Defining the problem more narrowly so that you can begin to brainstorm solutions (You have a whole afternoon free, and you can’t figure out what to do?).
- Brainstorm solutions. Together with you child, think of as many different things as you can that might solve the problem. You may want to set a time limit (like 2 minutes) because this sometimes speeds up the process or makes it feel less like an open-ended task. Write down all the possible solutions. Don’t criticize the solutions at this point because this tends to squelch the creative thinking process.
- Ask your child to look at all the solutions and pick the one he/she likes best. You may want to start by having him/her circle the top three to five choices and then narrow them down by talking about the pluses and minuses associated with each choice.
- Ask your child if he/she needs help carrying out the choice.
- Talk about what will happen if the first solution doesn’t work. This may involve choosing a different solution or analyzing where the first solution went wrong and fixing it.
- Praise him/her for coming up with a good solution (and then praise again after the solution is implemented).
Modifications/Adjustments: This is a standard problem-solving approach that can be used for all kinds of problems, including interpersonal problems as well as obstacles that prevent a child from getting what he/she wants or needs. Sometimes the best solution will involve figuring out ways to overcome the obstacles, while at other times it may involve helping your child come to terms with the fact that he/she cannot have what he/she wants.
Sometimes the problem-solving process may lead to a “negotiation,” where you and your child agree on what will be done to reach a solution that’s satisfactory. In this case, you should explain to your child that whatever solution you come up with, you both have to be able to live with it. You may want to talk about how labor contracts are negotiated so that both workers and basses get something they want out of the bargain.
After you’ve used the process (and the worksheet) with your child for a number of different kinds of problems, your child may be able to use the worksheet independently. Because your goal should be to foster independent problem solving, you may want to ask you child to fill out the Solving Problems Worksheet alone before coming to you for your help (if needed). Eventually, your child will internalize the whole process and be able to solve problems “on the fly.”
From Smart but Scattered by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare. Copyright 2009 by The Guilford Press. P. 184-185.
SOLVING PROBLEMS WORKSHEET
What is my problem?
What are some possible things I could do to solve my problem?
What will I try first?
If this doesn’t work, what can I do?
How did it go? Did my solution work?
What might I do differently the next time?
From Smart but Scattered by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare. Copyright 2009 by The Guilford Press. P. 186.