problem solving skills
This module is about helping you teach your child problem solving skills so they can use these skills to manage situations that are worrying them and where they are not sure what to do.
In our previous module Becoming a Thought Detective we looked at helping children challenge their thoughts, and evaluate if what they are thinking is true or accurate. But if your child’s perception of a situation appears to be valid you might look at whether the problem can be solved, at least to some degree.
We all encounter problems or challenges on a daily basis, some more complex than others, and we all need to learn how to deal with them. Problem solving is one of the most important life skills that we can teach our kids. Children face a variety of problems ranging from learning difficulties, peer issues, bullying, anxiety, difficulty completing a task, problems in the playground or sporting field or even deciding what outfit to wear.
When kids learn problem solving skills they:
Teaching your Child how to solve problems
Children benefit from direct instruction in problem solving, where they learn to specify a problem, devise solutions, select a solution, implement it and evaluate its effectiveness.
Below is a structured processes for teaching your child about problem solving:
a. Introduce the idea of problem solving to your child. Explain to your child that problem solving can be used when he or she isn’t sure of the best thing to do in a situation.
b.Watch the below video together of Olivia’s problem and talk to your child about how it is possible to solve a problem by looking at different solutions and then working out what would happen if you did each possible solution so you can choose the best one to try. Have your child think of another solution that Olivia might have considered.
“Video coming soon”
c. Briefly explain the 5 steps to problem-solving (explained fully in the next section):
d. Go through the completed worksheet (“coming soon”) of Olivia’s problem to show your child how the various steps are recorded and to help them get a better idea of problem solving.
e. Use our blank problem solving worksheet and choose a simple recent problem your child has faced or create a hypothetical problem and both work through the problem solving steps.
f. Once they understand the idea of problem solving, you can try to use problem solving as a skill to help manage situations that are causing them distress.
5 step approach to problem solving:
A collaborative, structured approach where both you and your child can influence the outcome.
Below are some simple guidelines:
In the transcript below we use anxious child, Olivia, to illustrate the 5 steps of problem solving.
Olivia has been sick and away from school for the last 5 days. She is extremely worried that she will have missed too much work and will never be able to catch up. Olivia is an above average student who works hard at school, but is self critical and consistently underestimates her abilities. She rarely asks for help for fear of people recognising her perceived inadequacies.
Step 1: Olivia and her parents sit down to find out what the problem is.
PARENT: Olivia, we can see that you are worried about going to school tomorrow. Can you tell us exactly what is worrying you?
CHILD: Oh, I’m not sure.
PARENT: (helping Olivia identify her thoughts and emotions] What’s going through your mind when you think about going to school tomorrow?
CHILD: (Thinks) Ummm. (Sighs) I don’t want to go.
PARENT: [continuing to understand the problem and possible distortions in Olivia’s thinking] Can you tell us why. What is it you are worried about?
CHILD: That I’ll never be able to catch up with my school work.
PARENT: [checking understanding] So, you don’t won’t to go to school because you are worried that being away last week will mean you won’t be able to catch up with your school work?
At this point Olivia’s parents may decide to work with her to evaluate her thought. Olivia has learnt to be a Thought Detective and identify and evaluate her thinking in previous work with her parents.
PARENT: [providing learning] Okay. You remember how we have talked about how our thoughts make us feel good or bad. Sometimes our thoughts are true, sometimes they turn out not to be true, and sometimes they are a bit true. Can we look at this thought “I’ll never be able to catch up with my school work”, and see how accurate it seems?
PARENT: [The Evidence Questions] What’s the evidence that you will never be able to catch up with your school work?
CHILD: Well, I have been away from school for the last week and I have missed a lot of work?
PARENT: Anything else?
CHILD: (Thinks) No. I guess not.
PARENT: Okay, now is there any evidence on the other side, that maybe you will be able to catch up?
CHILD: Ummm….I have been sick before and I was able to catch up.
PARENT: [Summarising] Okay, just to summarise, you have been sick and missed a week of school. But remembering, you have missed school before and have been able to catch up. Right?
PARENT: [Assessing the evaluation] Good. Now how much do you believe the thought: “I’ll never be able to catch up with my school work”?
CHILD: Oh, a fair bit. Last time I was only away for two days. This time I have been away for five days.
Olivia still believes the original thought and her worry level has only reduced marginally In addition her perceptions have some validity, so her parents focus on problem solving.
Step 2: Olivia’s parent help her generate some ideas to solve her problem.
PARENT: So it looks as though you will be a little bit behind at school….and that is no fault of your own. You couldn’t help being sick could you.
CHILD: I guess not.
PARENT: Okay, Olivia. We need to think of as many things as possible that can help you catch up with your school work and that you can do to feel better about it. What do you think you could do?
CHILD: I don’t know.
PARENT: What did you do last time to catch up?
CHILD: (Thinks for a moment.) Well, I did some extra homework to catch up.
PARENT: That’s a good idea. Can you think of anything else?
CHILD: I could stay at home and not go to school. Then I wouldn’t have to worry.
PARENT: We’ll that’s one idea. At this stage, we’ll write down all the ideas and then we can decide on one later on. Anything else?
CHILD: No I don’t think there is anything else.
PARENT: Who could you ask for help?
CHILD: I guess I could ask my teacher.
PARENT: Great, Olivia. Let’s write that down. “I can ask my teacher for help to catch up”. You’re trying really hard to come up with some good ideas. That’s excellent. Anything else?
CHILD: (No response)
PARENT: How about the fact that you can ask us for help if you need it?
Step 3: Olivia’s parents help her identify advantages and disadvantages for each idea and to choose the best solution or combination of
PARENTS: Right. Now Olivia, we’ve got a few different ideas written down that could help you feel better about catching up with your school work. Let’s go through them one by one and find out the good and bad things about each idea. We can also look at what thoughts might get in the way. Okay?
PARENT: Let’s start with the idea that you could do extra homework to catch up. What is good about that idea?
CHILD: Well, it would help me understand the work I have missed.
PARENT: Okay, write that down. You know, Olivia, you are good at understanding new work. Look how you seem to grasp how to do this problem solving.
CHILD: I guess so.
PARENT: Is there anything bad about doing extra homework?
CHILD: I have a lot of homework already and I have sport on after school. How will I fit it in?
PARENT: How about if needed we review what you have on and we can schedule in your activities to make sure you can fit it all in. Okay?
PARENT: How about your idea of staying at home and not going to school. What would happen if you did that?
CHILD: I wouldn’t be thinking about my school work.
PARENT: Yes maybe that would make you feel better for a short time. But is it possible that it would actually make you more worried because you would fall further behind.
PARENT: How about your idea of asking your teacher for help? What do you think would happen if you did that?
CHILD: I would feel scared?
PARENT: Waite a minute. Don’t you think your teacher enjoys helping her students? I know if I was a teacher I would like my students to ask lots of questions. It means they want to learn.
CHILD: I guess so.
PARENT: Now let’s think why it could be a good idea to ask your teacher for help?
CHILD: Well, she could suggest what I need to do and explain it to me?
PARENT: Great Olivia. You might even find out that they didn’t start any new work and there is only a little bit of catching up. Is that possible?
PARENT: Okay that’s the end of our list. Well done, Olivia. You have done a really good job looking at the good and bad points to each idea and what would happen if you did them. How are you feeling now?
CHILD: A bit better.
PARENTS: Okay now what we need to do is look at the list and the things that would happen if you choose each idea. Which ideas do you think would be best to do?
CHILD: I could remind myself that staying at home would make me more worried. I could also do some extra homework this week.
PARENT: Good. Should you ask you teacher for help first and that way you know if you need to do extra homework at all?
PARENT: Olivia, it sounds like you are nervous just thinking about asking your teacher for help, though it’s something you want to be able to do?
PARENT: How about before you talk to your teacher you remind yourself that your teacher likes her students asking questions. [Role-playing for practicing social skills] What would you say to your teacher?
CHILD: (Thinking for a moment) Miss X, I am worried that I have been away and won’t be able to catch up with our work. Can you help me?
PARENT: That’s excellent Olivia.
Step 4: Olivia’s parents help her put a plan in place
PARENT: Okay, When would be a good time to talk to your teacher?
CHILD: Monday morning, I guess.
PARENT: Okay, so you are going to talk to your teacher on Monday morning. I am proud of you for being able to figure out how to cope with your worry in a helpful way.
Step 5: Assuming that Olivia talked to her teacher, they would praise her effort and evaluate how well the solution worked. They may also organise a special reward to acknowledge her bravery.
PARENT: We are so proud of you for talking to your teacher about your worry. You did what you agreed you would do.
CHILD: Yeah, Miss X was very nice and I only have a little bit of extra homework this week.
PARENT: It sounds like it all worked out. What did you learn from what we did?
CHILD: That I don’t have to worry about asking Miss X for help. That if I am worried about something I can think about different ideas to deal with it.
PARENT: What about being a Thought Detective?
CHILD: That helped when I was able to think about other times I have been away from school and didn’t fall behind.
PARENT: Very well done. Is there anything you would do differently next time?
CHILD: Yeah, I’d enjoy my sick days more next time!
The completed problem solving worksheet from this example would look like this.
TIPS FOR PARENTS: