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Problem Solving Steps

Problem solving and reasoning skills, also known as “Executive Function,” begins to develop in children at about age 3 and continues to be a work in progress into adulthood.

The ability to problem solve is an essential life skill that helps children:

  • Become independent
  • Solve conflicts
  • Get along with others
  • Develop empathy
  • Manage emotions
  • Stay on task
  • Succeed in school
  • Be resilient! (external link)

Great problem solvers don’t develop overnight. It takes time, practice and a lot of patience.

Here are some tips to help your preschooler become a strong problem solver:

  1. Assume your child is competent and able to problem solve. You might be surprised when given the chance how capable they actually are.
  2. Use everyday moments to teach problem solving skills throughout the day.
  3. Whenever possible, let your child choose the solution as long as it is safe and reasonable. Be prepared – 3-year-olds can have great imaginations!
  4. Praise your child’s efforts in following the problem solving steps – their first solution may not turn out to be the best solution after all.
  5. Encourage your child to evaluate the outcome. Solutions that do not work are opportunities for learning.
  6. Playing thinking games such as What would happen if? helps children to think of positive strategies for handling difficult situations before they arise.
  7. Board games like Snakes and Ladders are another fun way to teach early literacy, problem solving skills, taking turns and getting along with others while having the added benefit of being a great family.
  8. Encourage children to imagine and understand other ways to do something – like a different way to join others at the playground, play with toys or tidy up.
  9. Read stories that promote problem solving by overcoming obstacles and dealing with disappointment, such as Pete the Cat - I Love My White Shoes (external link). This is another excellent way of engaging children in the problem solving process.

It may be easier for a parent to give in and buy two toys for a pair of determined preschoolers rather than watch them negotiate how to share (external link) one. However, when you see the look of pride on their faces as this skill is perfected, you will come to realize it is worth the extra time and effort.