Behavior & Environment

Help Kids Solve Their Own Problems

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When kids are fighting with each other, for many of us, our first instinct is to jump in and solve whatever problem they have. We want the squabbling, the fighting, the poking, the whining, the annoyance to stop. However, when we solve the conflict for them, we take away their opportunity to learn how to solve it themselves. Here are three things you can do to help kids get into the groove of solving their own problems.

1. During times of calm, teach problem-solving skills. Be intentional about giving kids the vocabulary to express how they feel and what they need, the skills to brainstorm potential solutions, to see things from another person’s perspective, and to try different ideas until you find something that works. Kids learn these skills incrementally by watching you model them in your interactions with them and other kids, and by practicing them in a safe environment.

2. Don’t get pulled into the drama. Most of the time, kids can handle whatever conflicts are happening between them. From “He won’t play with me!” to “She looked at me mean!” to “He took my toy away and won’t give it back!” If they’ve been running to you for help, it’s become a habit to turn to you for an intervention. A simple “I trust you two to solve this” or a prompting question like “What are some possible solutions to your problem?” can put the problem-solving back in their court. The more skills they have in their toolbox, the more they’ll tackle problem-solving themselves.

3. Don’t label kids. We often label kids without thinking. Statements like “You always have a hard time sharing” or “You’re so dramatic!” send a message to the child, and those messages stick. Labels put kids in a box, making it hard for them to find alternative ways to solve problems.

Teaching kids to solve their own problems is a long-term lesson. Start small and watch their skills bloom.