Do you sometimes wish your child could sort their own problems out a bit more?
Me to! Trouble is, sometimes I swoop.
It’s when we dive (or swoop!) in at every available opportunity to sort out our child’s problems, rather than helping empower them to sort things out for themselves.
In fact I swooped the other day.
Boy, was I in TROUBLE.
I was in the bath and my little lady was sat on the loo chatting about dinosaurs.
“When I’m a teenager, will I be able to run as fast as a velociraptor’’ she asked (she’s 5).
Urm, I’m not sure I replied. How fast can a velociraptor run?
Really fast, she said, pumping her arms back and forth like a piston.
Slightly mortified by my lack of knowledge of 75 million year old dromaeosarid theropods from the Cretaceous Period (impressed much? don’t be, I looked it up on Wikipedia) I asked her if she would mind getting me a towel.
She stood on the loo and made great efforts to get the towel off the back of the bathroom door.
‘Do you need some help’ I asked?
‘NO’, she said, standing on one foot and leaning like a miniature leaning Tower of Pisa, as she struggled to get the towel off.
After a few seconds, I stood up and hooked the towel off myself.
‘Urgghh’, said my daughter loudly.
‘What?’, I said, ‘I was trying to help’.
‘You did it for me…!’
‘AND’ she said (she narrowed her eyes accusingly at this point)
‘You made me give up.’
I stood there dripping like a wet fish, feeling cut down to the height of a Minpin (if you haven’t read Roald Dahl’s the Minpins with your child, I whole heartedly recommend you do so!)
She was right.
My own parenting philosophy had done a boomerang and was coming right back at me to nip me on my (quite literally) naked bottom.
But, do you know what?
I was proud of her.
We spend so long encouraging our children to always try their hardest and not give up, then plough on in there like a small tornado and do it for them.
What effect does this have?
It disempowers them and suggests that they can’t actually do it themselves.
What a lesson to teach your child!
It may not be intentional, but the unspoken message here is ‘you can’t do it’.
Give your kids the message – ‘yes, you can do it!’
Imagine, instead, the joy of being able to stand by and see your child work through a problem themselves, with tools you have taught them.
My little lady is a natural problem solver, which is combined with a natural will to help. So if I’d waited a few more minutes, she would have worked out how to get the towel off the back of the bathroom door – either by standing on her step stool or by abseiling down her dressing gown cord from the shower rail (just kidding with that one).
So how do we empower our kids to work things out for themselves?
I’ve found the following 6 steps invaluable in teaching my child to master problem solving.
Whilst the examples are my own, the 6 steps are courtesy of the wonderful Dr Laura Markham of Aha Parenting (you can find these steps and much more in her book Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids).
Dr Markham calls the tools scaffolding – i.e tools to use to support your child to become a problem solver.
Because kids do need help in learning how to problem solve for themselves – they just don’t always need us to do it for them.
How to Empower Your Child to Problem Solve in 6 Easy Steps
1 – Modelling
Modelling behaviour is a great way for kids to learn without them feeling like they are being preached at. So, you could use a situation where you’d lost your car keys , for example to model problem solving.
Saying something like ‘I can’t find my keys to the car. Want to try and remember what we did since we got home, so I can find out where I put them?’ gets them involved in solving the problem with you.
2 – Offering Tools and Strategies
Toddlers and preschoolers can so often find themselves in situations where a disagreement starts brewing with their peers and they don’t have the tools to work it out for themselves. Giving them the necessary tools and strategies to work it out together can work wonders.
Something as simple as ‘I see you both want that toy right now. What could we do so you both get a turn?’ offers them the chance to look for solutions themselves and reach a compromise rather than a Clash of the Titans battle of the wills. You can obviously help them with this if they need it.
In fact, I actually saw my little lady put this into action the other day.
We were at a friend’s for lunch and she was mixing pancakes with her friend. Their wooden spoons were competing wildly in the mixing bowl and batter was about to have a splatter fest all over the kitchen wall.
At this point I went to step in (yep, and take over!), when my daughter stopped and said ‘look, why don’t we take turns?’ Problem solved.
3 – Sequencing
This really helps kids learn to understand a chain of events (or sequence of things) that are about to happen.
This way they can be prepared for (and therefore cope with) the transitions better. An example might be, ‘Ok, so I’ll do one page of your favourite sticker book with you, then we’ll need to brush your hair and put your shoes on, so we can get to nursery on time.’
4 – Support in Emotional Regulation
My little lady was wrapping a birthday present recently. She was getting pretty irate with the sticky tape, which kept sticking to her fingers when she tried to hold the wrapping paper down. Without taking over or judging, I described what I saw happening and said:
‘I can see you’re getting a bit frustrated with that sticky tape, shall I hold the wrapping paper down, so you can stick it easier.’
She said yes and that was that.
However. if I had said ‘do you want me to do it’ she would have shouted ‘NO’ and got really cross, as I would have effectively been suggesting she couldn’t do it herself.
Or if I had left her to her own devices (tempting at times, as my little lady is feisty and I have to choose my words very carefully!) she would likely have started screaming blue murder at the sticky tape, which would then have found itself hurtling across the room.
Teaching your children ‘mastery’ as Laura Markham calls it, takes patience, as things will invariably take longer (we once spent 45 minutes writing Grandad’s birthday card!), but seeing the joy in your child’s face that they have accomplished something themselves is pretty priceless.
5 – Reminders
My daughter dropped cereal all over the sofa the other day. This is quite a frequent occurrence (yes I know, don’t eat on the sofa then!) and there have of course been days where I’ve got frustrated (we are none of us perfect all the time and we shouldn’t expect ourselves to be).
When I get frustrated though, she feels shamed, which leads her to get cross.
However, saying instead that it’s just a bit of cereal and opting for a gentle, non judgemental reminder that we always take responsibility for own mess, usually prompts her to get a cloth and clean it up (I do help her if she needs me to!)
That way, she feels empowered at cleaning up her own mess and no one gets cranky. (Believe me, initially, this is far harder than getting irritated!, but after a while you start to start to see the frustration as kind of wasted energy.)
6 – Encouragement
My daughter loves her school gingham summer dresses. She has 2 and one has tricky buttons.
She will literally stand for 10 minutes, if necessary, working hard on doing them up herself. I’ve learned not to offer any help!
What I do say though is something like ‘those buttons are so tricky, I love how you keep trying until they are all done up’.
This offers gentle encouragement and praises her effort.
The Bottom Line: How To Empower Your Child To Problem Solve
Giving children the tools to help them problem solve is an invaluable skill that they can take with them through childhood and on into adult life.
Without doubt, it will frequently take a lot more patience than stepping in and doing it for them, but if you help them with the scaffolding (as Laura Markham calls it) between the ages of around 3 to 5, it will pay off huge dividends for both you and your child later on.
It will help your child to:
- build the foundations for problem solving
- play around with solutions
- learn how to regulate their emotions, when the inevitable frustrations of life pop up.
Next time my little lady tries to get me a towel I will wait patiently and try my hardest not to make her give up…!
If you found the 6 steps above helpful, you might want to try the AhaParenting.com website, which offers a tonne of advice on how to nurture happy, responsible and considerate kids!
Happy problem solving…
(Oh and if you’re still wondering, a velociraptor may have been able to run up to roughly 40 mph. But only in short bursts. Apparently 😉 )
Have you tried any of these steps to help empower your child to problem solve? Do you have any tips or tricks of your own?