Oh No! Why? More on Problem Solving

Imagine this, you are walking down the hallway at work with your files in your arms, and your co-worker, Harry, bumps into you.  Your files go flying with paper scattering everywhere on the floor!  Now you will be late to the meeting and look unorganized!  Frustration and maybe a little bit of anger towards Harry creeps in.  When something like this happens to us as adults, we take a brief minute and think, “Did Harry just mean to do that or was it an accident?”

Turns out this question helps us to analyze a problem or event before we assign blame and get angry, sad, or frustrated.  This question can reduce angry responses when these types of problems happen.  Now hopefully Harry noticed what happened and will help you with your papers, but he may just keep on walking.  How we think about and define problems means a lot.  How do we help our children ask these questions?

  • First things first, we need to help our children calm down when they have a problem. Our brain can think much better when we are calm.  For ideas on how to calm see my other blog post The Calm Instead of the Storm.  I know I say this all the time, but it really is extremely important.
  • Then we need to help cue or signal to our children that they need to think about why the problem happened. Use cue words, like Think Why, to remind them now is the time to decide why the problem occurred.  They will need guidance and help with this process.  You may need to lead the discussion:  “Do you really think your friend meant for that to happen?  I wonder if it was an accident.  Here is why I think it might have been an accident…”
  • Then help them think of ways to solve their problem or handle the event. Again, they will need your assistance and probably a cue like, Think How.  You will find yourself helping them to come up with ideas and you may even guide the steps for solving the problem.  You also can refer to my Eureka! blog post for practicing solving problems.
  • Remember to use praise when children pause and Think Why and How. Let them know they worked hard to solve the problem or handle the event.  Tell them you see them growing up when they go through this process.

An additional helpful hint:

I often suggest for parents to have a picture guide or reminder list for solving problems at home.  This guide should be kept in a place easy to reach in a time of need.  You also can use it after the fact when you are discussing a problem and how it may have been better to solve it.  Have your child make the guide with their own pictures, use pictures they found in magazines or electronic images, or have them write their own guide using keywords.  Here is a sample with pictures and words (you will note that the pictures do not have to be fancy, just something your child will look at and understand):


Have fun with making your guide and remember that learning problem-solving skills takes a lot of practice and support.  It’s ok if it takes a while to learn how to do these steps!

Resource for this and other problem-solving blogs:

Crick, N. R., & Dodge, K. A. (1994).  A review and reformation of social information-processing mechanisms in children’s social adjustment. Psychological Bulletin, 115, 74-101.


Previous Blogs:


My Kid Said What?!?!?

The Calm Instead of the Storm

Creating Connection

Phonemic what? How to Support Your Child’s Reading

Flip-flopping Negative to Positive

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