How to Teach Problem-Solving Skills to Kids (Ages 3-14)

By Ashley Cullins

Whether it’s a toy-related conflict, a tough math equation, or negative peer pressure, kids of ALL ages face problems and challenges on a daily basis.

As parents or teachers, we can’t always be there to solve every problem for our children. In fact, this isn’t our job. Our job is to TEACH our children how to solve problems by themselves. This way, they can become confident, independent, and successful individuals.

Instead of giving up or getting frustrated when they encounter a challenge, kids with problem-solving skills manage their emotions, think creatively, and persist until they find a solution. Naturally, these abilities go hand-in-hand with a growth mindset.


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So HOW do you teach problem-solving skills to kids?

Well, it depends on their age. As cognitive abilities and the size of the child’s challenges grow/evolve over time, so should your approach to teaching problem-solving skills.

Read on to learn key strategies of teaching problem-solving to kids, as well as some age-by-age ideas and activities.

3 General Strategies to Teach Problem-Solving at Any Age


1. Model Effective Problem-Solving


When YOU encounter a challenge, do a “think-aloud” for the benefit of your child. MODEL how to apply the same problem-solving skills you’ve been working on together, giving the real-world examples that she can implement in her own life.

At the same time, show your child a willingness to make mistakes. Everyone encounters problems, and that’s okay. Sometimes the first solution you try won’t work, and that’s okay too!

When you model problem-solving, explain that there are some things which are out of our control. As we’re solving a problem at hand we should focus on the things we CAN actually control.


2. Ask for Advice


Ask your kids for advice when you have a problem. This teaches them that it’s common to make mistakes and face challenges. It also gives them the opportunity to practice problem-solving skills. 

Plus, when you indicate that their ideas are valued, they’ll gain the confidence to attempt solving problems on their own.


3. Don’t Provide “The Answer”


As difficult as it may be, allow your child to struggle, sometimes fail, and ultimately LEARN from experiencing consequences.

Now, let’s take a look at some age-specific strategies and activities. The ages listed below are general guidelines, feel free to choose any strategies or activities that you feel will work for YOUR child.

3-5 Years

Use Emotion Coaching


To step into a problem-solving mindset, young children need to first learn to manage their emotions. After all, it’s difficult for a small child to logically consider solutions to a problem if he’s mid-tantrum.

One way to accomplish this is by using the emotion coaching process outlined by John Gottman.

First, teach your kids that ALL emotions are acceptable. There are NO “bad” emotions. Even seemingly negative emotions like anger, sadness, and frustration can teach us valuable lessons. What matters is how we respond to these emotions.

Second, follow this process:

  • Step One: Naming and validating emotions. When your child is upset, help her process the way she’s feeling. Say something like, “I understand that you’re upset because Jessica is playing with the toy you wanted.”

  • Step Two: Processing emotions. Guide your child to her calming space. If she doesn’t have one, it’s a good idea to create one. Let her calm her body and process her emotions so she can problem-solve, learn, and grow.

  • Step Three: Problem Solving. Brainstorm solutions with your child, doing moreLISTENINGthan talking during the conversation. This allows your child to practice her problem-solving skills, and she’s more likely to actually implement the solutions she came up with herself.


Say, “Show Me the Hard Part”


When your child struggles or feels frustrated, try a technique suggested by mom and parenting blogger Lauren Tamm. Simply say, “Show me the hard part.”

This helps your child identify the ROOTof the problem, making it less intimidating and easier to solve. 

Repeat back what your child says, “So you’re saying…” 

Once you both understand the real problem, prompt your child to come up with solutions. “There must be some way you can fix that…” or “There must be something you can do…”

Now that your child has identified “the hard part,” she’ll likely be able to come up with a solution. If not, help her brainstorm some ideas. You may try asking the question, “If you DID know, what would you think?” and see what she comes up with.

Your child can practice finding solutions to obstacles they’re facing with WonderKit that has emotional support through ed and edina, and mental and growth support through our activity book.

Problem-Solve with Creative Play


Allow your child to choose activities and games based on her interests. Free play provides plenty of opportunities to navigate and creatively solve problems.

Children often learn best through play. Playing with items like blocks, simple puzzles, and dress-up clothes can teach your child the process of problem-solving.

Even while playing, your child thinks critically: Where does this puzzle piece fit? What does this do? I want to dress up as a queen. What should I wear? Where did I put my tiara? Is it under the couch?

Encourage creative play, creative thinking, and problem-solving with our fabulous WonderKit!


Problem-Solve with Storybooks


ead age-appropriate stories featuring characters who experience problems, such as:

  • Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy by Jacky Davis: The story of two friends who want to play together but can’t find a game to agree on. After taking turns making suggestions, they arrive at a game they both want to play: Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy.
  • The Curious George Series by Margaret and H.E. Rey: A curious little monkey gets into and out of dilemmas, teaching kids to find solutions to problems of their own.
  • Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber: Ira’s thrilled to have a sleepover at his friend Reggie’s house. But there’s one problem: Should he or should he not bring his teddy bear? It may seem small, but this is the type of early social problem your child might relate to. 

Connect these experiences to similar events in your child’s own life, and ASK your child HOW the characters in these stories could solve their problems. Encourage a variety of solutions, and discuss the possible outcomes of each.

This is a form of dialogue reading, or actively ENGAGINGyour child in the reading experience. Interacting with the text instead of passively listening can “turbocharge” the development of literacy skills such as comprehension in preschool-aged children.

By asking questions about the characters’ challenges, you can also give your child’s problem-solving abilities a boost.

You can even have your child roleplay the problem and potential solutions to reinforce the lesson.



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