Teaching Young Children Problem Solving
Children are not born with problem solving skills, they have to be taught! With seven children ranging in age over a span of twelve years, I learned early that I needed to take advantage of teaching situations that occurred in my home. Doing so usually meant that we were able to avoid crises in public.
This hub addresses several situations where we, as caregivers, can intervene and teach children vital skills that enable them to learn problem solving early in life. As we do so, we stack the cards in our favor that their behavior in public will be appropriate. This hub addresses the following situations and demonstrates how to teach the problem solving skill listed:
- Sharing - asking for what is wanted
- Table Manners - cause and effect
- Shopping - delayed gratification
What is the most important problem solving skill we can teach children?
Children at the age of two are just beginning to exert their independence and individuality. We frequently hear them say, "Mine!" or "I want to do it myself!" They have a strong will and curious mind. This causes conflict when children are playing together and they both want the same toy. When one child picks it up, immediately, the other child wants to have it as well, and a fight ensues. The following steps work wonders:
1. Sit down on the level of the children. Look into the children's eyes while speaking to them. If necessary hold out a hand and say "Stop" or "Look at me" so that they stop quarreling over the toy.
2. Have the child who wants the toy ask for it. Help the child formulate the question, "Can I play with the toy, please?" Then have them wait for a response from the other child. It is helpful to hold their hand so that they do not just grab.
3. Allow the other child to respond. If the response is positive, praise the child for being willing to share. If the response is negative, teach the child to say, "You can play with it as soon as I am done." This will usually appease the child that wants the toy, and they will wait until the other child is finished with it.
Sharing doesn't usually happen until children experience ownership and possession. We teach this when they are toddlers by helping them ask when they want to play with a toy another child has. We will know that they have internalized it when they teach each other how to do it. Until then, whenever this type of problem surfaces, we sit down with them and walk them through it. They soon realize that if they ask nicely or politely, they are more likely to get what they want from another person. This important problem solving skill will be an advantage to them when they are in school and even the workplace.
The principle of cause and effect is best taught to our children while they are at the table. Our ability to teach them good table manners will be reflected in all aspects of their lives. We do this using the "If-Then" concept. The following is an example
Behavior: The child climbs up onto the table during mealtime.
Parent says to the child: "We do not climb on the table. You need to get down off the table."
Child replies: "No!"
Parent says: "If you do not get down off the table yourself, then I will pick you up and take you off the table."
Because most young children want to exert their independence, they will readily get down off the table by themselves. When they do so, the parent thanks them for getting off the table. If, however, the child does not, the parent then performs the action of picking up the child and taking them off the table.
The following graph shows how the "If-then" concept can be used to teach children table manners. The first column is labeled "Manners" and indicates the rule to be taught. the "Compliance" column gives an example of the privilege the child is allowed "If" the rule is followed. the "Consequence" column shows what happens when the child does not comply with the rule. It is our choice whether we focus our "If-Then" directives on positive compliance or the negative consequences of non-compliance. Personally, I use the one with the most immediate result.
Keep hands and feet to yourself.
The child is allowed to choose where they sit at the table.
The child must sit next to the parent or in the seat the parent chooses.
Take at least one bite of the food served.
If the child does not like the item, the child is allowed to fix him or herself a sandwich or other desirable food.
The child does not get anything else to eat until the following meal.
Say please for items wanted and thank-you after they are given.
The item is passed to the child and they are praised.
The item is not passed until the proper words are used.
Remain at the table until food served is eaten.
Dessert is allowed.
Dessert is not allowed.
Children are perfectly capable of understanding cause and effect when the consequences of their actions are immediate. They realize that if they want certain things to happen, they need to comply with what the parents are enforcing. Our ability to be firm and consistent in our teaching will largely determine the outcome.
Children at this age want to be in charge of their own world. They like to choose what they wear, the activities they are involved in, and what they want to eat. As parents, we give them guidelines for making these choices. We teach them which actions are appropriate and which are not. If they choose those things that are not in keeping with the guidelines, we give a direct consequence using the "If-Then" concept.
It does not take long before they realize that the choices that they make do matter and have a direct bearing on what they are allowed to do. Our ability to enforce consequences that are predictable, immediate, and related to the situation enables our children to know what is expected of them.
Shopping with young children can be a nightmare unless we have done some homework. Making a plan is imperative. We have to know where we are going, what we want to get while we are there, and how we will handle our children's insistent pleas to buy the things that they see. The following guidelines are helpful:
- Talk ahead of time about where shopping will take place, what can be expected, and how children are to behave while in the store.
- Let children know what is on the list of things to buy and allow them to help pick the items from the shelves and put them in the cart.
- Plan for the children to make choices that affect them directly. For example, if one item on the list is cold cereal, pick out several boxes that are acceptable to you as a parent, and allow the children to take turns choosing which one to buy.
- Prepare a special treat or other desirable item as an incentive for positive behavior. Praise every effort to make it happen, and give only occasional reminders. Make sure it is earned before it is given. Allow the children to experience disappointment if they have not earned it. They will do better the next time around.
The majority of children want to do the right thing. If we give them the benefit of the doubt and help them comply, they will usually meet our expectations. Delayed gratification is a difficult concept, even for adults. We want our needs to be met immediately, and have very little patience with having to wait. Children are no different.
When we make sure that they are prepared ahead of time and have ample opportunity for compliance, we enable their positive behavior. Other things that help are seeing that they are well rested, have eaten before taking them into shopping areas, and are involved in some way. The color, sound, and excitement of a shopping trip can be a positive experience for our children if we plan and prepare ahead.
Children are very capable of learning problem solving skills at a young age if we take the time to teach them. Using the circumstances we have in our own homes will help our children learn the vital skills necessary to help them be successful in public places. As they to ask for what they want, the power of cause and effect, and are able to delay gratification, their emotional health will be affected for the better, and so will our own!
© 2014 Denise W Anderson