Can Toddlers Solve Their Own Problems?

by Sesame Lane Admin on 17/01/2017 12:22:54 PM
It’s hard to know if you’re doing the right thing as a parent. Are you being too lenient or erring on the side of helicopter parenting and not letting them make enough decisions?
Problem solving is a huge part of your little one’s development, in fact it’s one of the six most important life skills they will learn.
Trying to get your child to solve their own problems can feel like you’re riding a bike down a bumpy road, and the bike is on fire, the road is on fire and everything is on fire because you’re in child rearing hell.
But there are ways to help encourage your child to make their own decisions without calling out the fire service.

#1 Be Consistent

Do you find yourself putting limits in place and kind of keeping to them? The key to having your children solve their own problems is consistency. It’s all well and good putting plans and rules into place, but if you don’t enforce them daily, your child won’t comply.
As with many other areas of their lives, they love to know what’s going on and what to expect. Kids don’t really like to be surprised by new rules or new ways of doing things. It’s quite a struggle for them to compute it all. So putting a plan in place and being consistent with it will take time, but it will be worth it.


#2 Be Thoughtful

Problem solving comes naturally to us as adults. But remember, we have many years of practice behind us. Being thoughtful in your approach to toddler problem solving is easier said than done and it can be just as frustrating for you as it is for them.
However, you should be mindful and respond thoughtfully to their struggle. Stay calm and practice empathy, try saying things like:
  • This looks like it’s really difficult for you, how can I help?
  • Would you like some help or do you think you’ve got this?
  • I would like to help, shall we work together to solve this problem?
  • You can do this, I know you can. But I’m here if you need me.
If they’re frustrated in not being able to complete a task it is your job to persuade them they can, but it takes a little effort. Be the calming force. They will believe in their own ability eventually, as long as they feel like you’re on their side.

#3 Instill Confidence

This moves nicely on from being thoughtful. Your role is to teach them that they can do it on their own. And saying all the right things will slowly build their confidence.
If they’re struggling to feel confident there are a few phrases you can repeat, endlessly, until they finally believe you:
  • You can do it, I know you can
  • Keep trying
  • You’re trying so hard, well done
  • I can see how hard you’re working to fix this problem, I’m so proud
  • If you keep trying you will do it, I know you will
Sharing your confidence in their ability will rub off, eventually. It just takes time and an infinite amount of patience.

#4 Break Down the Problem

This one is super simple and really effective. Take the problem and break it down into the smallest parts possible. Ask yourself, what would this look like if it were easy? Let’s take a toddler trying to put on their shoes. How can this be broken down?
  • Put the shoes on the right side
  • Focus on one shoe at a time
  • Work out where their hands need to be in order to put their foot in
  • Once their foot is in properly, how does it fasten?
  • Praise getting the first shoe on
  • Repeat on the other side
Just as an example, and you can break it up however you need to and make the problem much smaller, and much more manageable.
P.S. Asking the question, what would this look like if it were easy, is totally applicable to adult life. Check it out. It works wonders!


#5 Discuss the Problems Together

This can be a pretty creative process for the both of you. You might feel like solving problems is regimented and logical, but in order to solve a problem you have think outside the box and be creative.
There are a few simple ways to do this. You can:
  • Come up with ‘what if’ scenarios and have your child give their own solutions  
  • Create funny stories dealing with different issues
  • Find things around the house and make new stuff out of them (a lesson in recycling at the same time)
Not only does this encourage your child to think creatively without getting stressed, it’s also great bonding time.

#6 Try Not to Fix It

This is much easier said than done and our natural default as parents is to fix things. We don’t like to see our kids struggling and it will take all of your strength not to jump in. But now is the time to practice self-restraint.
Jumping in to to fix the problem won’t help your kid at all. If you’re always there to solve the problem they will never learn to do it alone. Your little one needs to make mistakes. Mistakes is how they learn and grow.
Mistakes teach them what not to do next time around. And let’s face it, you’re not always going to be with them to solve their problems so the sooner they learn to deal with things independently, the better.


#7 Talk About Their Emotions

Learning to problem solve is stressful to say the least. So teaching your child to express and talk about their emotions will be really helpful. When kids are angry, they tend to act out. They don’t understand these emotions yet or how to deal with them. That’s what you’re there for.
If you child is getting angry or frustrated, let them know that you understand what is happening. Say things like:
“I can see you’re getting angry/frustrated with [insert task]. That’s ok. I know it can feel tough, but take a second to calm down and let’s try again.”
It is important you teach your kids to understand and take ownership of their emotions. If they need to take a minute to get out of the situation and calm down, let them do it. Find a way to do it without making it feel like a punishment.
Try having a ‘calm down chair’ or another designated calm down spot. If they’re really freaking out, put them there, explain why they need to calm down and make it their responsibility to take control of their emotion. When they feel calm and ready to come back to the problem, they can and you will be by their side if they need you.


Be a Safe Space

Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. This is something your kids will only understand if you teach it. A child’s default behaviour is to try, get frustrated, and give up. If this cycle isn’t broken they will always approach problems in this way.
Talking about their emotions, approaching problems in a creative way and making them seem easy are key ways to help your child solve their own problems. Be a helping hand, but don’t jump in at the first sign of trouble. Offer your help, but build their confidence to do it alone.
Try at least one of these things the next time your toddler struggles in solving a problem and see what a difference it makes.