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  • Writer's pictureDayna Sharp, LCSW

Problem Solving Skills for Kids

Kids can become flustered, anxious, sad and act out in anger when they have are in a situation where they don't know what to do. They may not even recognize that there is an identifiable problem...only that they feel a certain way. Teaching kids how to identify and solve problems is a valuable tool that will help them in academics and social situations. It will also help them to feel more confident and grounded!

Problem solve away anxiety
When kids learn effective problem solving strategies, they are less likely to feel anxious, sad or angry about situations. Instead, they feel more confident in their ability to work through challenges AND to persist!

Ways You Can Help!

1. Model problem solving skills

When you yourself have a problem, you can model for your kids what to do. If the problem is age appropriate, let them know that you're having a problem. Show them how you write down potential ideas. Let them hear the questions you ask...would it be fair? How would everyone feel if...? What would happen if...? Let them know how it works out!

2. Consult with your child

If you feel your child would be receptive, ask them for advice! You're not relying on them to make adult decisions for you, but you're consulting with them, giving them the chance to play with problem solving. "So, I have this issue at work...I think the problem is...I have some ideas about what to do, but what do you think? I'd love to hear your ideas". Hear what kinds of solutions they come up with. Ask them more questions about their ideas. "So let's play this out. If I did this idea of yours, what would happen?". Let your child know what you choose, and fill them in on the outcome.

3. Validate feelings and help your child identify what the problem is.

Sometimes your child won't even know how to verbalize the specific problem, they will just feel anxious or sad or angry. Put their feelings into words. "I can see you're feeling angry this afternoon...can we talk about it?". If your child isn't ready to talk, give them space. But when they are, and they describe the situation, ask them, "What do you think is the hardest part?", or as parent blogger Lauren Tamm says "Show me the hard part". Paraphrase what they've said, so they can hear the specific problem repeated back to them. Offer some hope, "now that we know what the problem is, I bet we can figure out how to work through it. Do you have any ideas?".

4. Be supportive, but don't be a "fixer"!

When your child has a problem that isn't related to the safety of your child or another child, prioritize listening and validating. "That sounds like a really tough problem you've got there". Instead of giving them an answer, invite them to problem solve. "Do you have any ideas of what you might do? Let's go through it together". If your child is able to give ideas, help them to think them through. "Well, let's test them out. What would happen if...? How would you feel if...? How would they feel if...?"

5. Offer problem solving focused, critical thinking opportunities through play!

Kids love to play, it's their primary language! Engaging them with riddles, playing games like chess or checkers, Twister or Operation, even dress up and role playing can help them to solve challenges. How do I get my left hand over to the blue spot without falling? How do I get the heart piece out without touching the side? What do I wear to look like Elsa? How do I move my piece so I don't get jumped? Expressing interest in the books your child reads, or the shows they watch or even the video games they play--what is the problem? How did the character or the player solve the problem? Were there any other ways they could have approached the problem? There are endless opportunities!


In therapy with kids, my first priority is to build a trustworthy relationship with your child, to really listen and try to understand their worlds. I provide an individualized therapy that allows kids to better understand their feelings, and to build problem solving skills, so that they can feel confident about themselves, and experience more freedom in their work and play. If your child struggles with anxiety, frustration or anger, call me, Dayna Sharp @ Creating Space Counseling and Wellness to see if we might be a great match!



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