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


Eureka! I Have a Solution!

Ever get that feeling of frustration when you had a problem and weren’t thinking of solutions?  Did you know that anger and frustration decrease when we are able to think of ways to solve problems?  Well, it’s true – the more ways we can think of to solve problems, the less angry and frustrated we are.  Problems can be anything: social, friendship, academic, work related… whatever!  When we can think of ideas, we are more able to move forward past the problem and have a better attitude.

You might be asking, “How can I help my children learn how to think of solutions to problems?”  Here are three good ways we can help children learn how to do this.

  • Model (I’d like to reference my last blog post My Kid Said What?!?!? on Overt Modeling). The more we show children how we search for ideas to solve problems, the more likely they are to try it themselves.
  • Practice thinking of solutions with your children. Capitalize on opportunities to think through problems.  When you are watching a TV show or reading a book with your children and the characters run into a problem, pause and ask your children to think of ways it can be solved.  Have them think of multiple ways to solve one problem.  You also can ask them if the solution the characters came up with will actually solve the problem.
  • Cue or say that it is time for them to think about ways to solve problems. You can have a code word with your children that helps them know when it is time to think of solutions.  They will need help to generate ideas and to figure out if some ideas are better than others.  Be Aware – you may have to wait for your children to calm down before they are ready to think about solutions (if you need ideas on how to help your children calm down, please see my blog post The Calm Instead of the Storm).  We always think of more ideas when we are calm.

Learning how to solve problems helps to reduce our feelings of anger and frustration.  With practice and guidance, children can have many proud Eureka! moments with successful problem-solving.



Previous Posts:


Creating Connection

Phonemic what? How to Support Your Child’s Reading


My Kid Said What?!?!?!?

We know children learn by watching what we do every day.  I remember some funny stories of when my children imitated my not-so-wonderful moments, like yelling at the slow truck in front of us at the stop light (oops).  However, we actually are able to turn their imitation of our behaviors into moments of positive learning and skill building!

I often describe how to do this when I work with parents in my practice, and I call it Overt Modeling or Purposeful Modeling.  This technique helps to teach any kind of skill to children of any age.  I briefly mentioned this technique in my last post about Calming but thought that giving it more description could be helpful.

  • What does it look like? It is acting, over describing, and using open self-talk so our children can hear.  It is picking one event a day (or more) and openly talking about how you as the adult are thinking through the situation so children can hear you use all the skills you hope for them to use in a similar situation.
  • When can you use it? Overt Modeling can be used anytime when you would like children to learn how to use a skill you’d like them to learn.
    • Calming: You might talk through taking breaths, stretching or taking a break and how it makes your body and mind feel calmer and helps you solve a problem.
    • Social skills: You might talk through looking at the face and body of another person to know how they feel.  You might say that you greeted someone you were nervous to talk to by saying, “Hello.”
    • Problem-solving: You might talk through all the ideas you came up with to solve a problem and how you settled on one of them because it would be the best for everyone.
    • Organizing: You might talk about how you were glad you packed everything for your day the night before because it helped everyone get going on time.
    • Making mistakes: You might talk about mistakes you made and how you worked to fix them, how they ended up not mattering or how the mistake actually was better than the original plan.
  • An example of talking about something from your day: If a child feels everything that happens to them is because someone else wanted to hurt or tease them (but you know that is not true), then an Overt Modeling situation may sound like this:

“I was walking down the hall today at work and Jim turned and bumped into me making my coffee spill all over the floor!  He didn’t even offer to help, just ran by me!  It really made me mad.  BUT I knew had to think through this.  I asked myself, did Jim mean to do this to me? No, it was an accident.  I think he actually was trying to quickly get to a meeting.  I knew this because he ran down the hall to the meeting room and entered quickly.  I am so glad I thought about if Jim really meant to spill my coffee.  It saved me from getting really angry.”

  • Another example of talking about something in the moment: You can use situations in the moment too.  If you are trying to help build your child’s comfort with making mistakes, make one and then talk through how it doesn’t matter or how the outcome is actually better than it might have been without the mistake.

“Oh Goodness! I forgot the chocolate chips for the cookies!  I know we really wanted those cookies today.  I know that was a mistake, but I wonder if there is another idea we can come up with that will make really yummy cookies.  I know, we have cinnamon and sugar! Let’s sprinkle it on each cookie instead.  That will be yummy too!  This mistake actually ended up good – a new yummy cookie recipe!”

Overt Modeling is one of my favorite techniques to talk about with families because they can work in moments to learn skills all through the day.  The end results are positive: children learn these new skills and families build stronger relationships because they are talking and learning together.  Then instead of saying, “My kid said what?!” we can say, “Ah, my kid said what we have been working on!”


Previous Posts:

The Calm Instead of the Storm

Creating Connection

Phonemic what? How to Support Your Child’s Reading

Flip-flopping Negative to Positive

Relationship Lessons from my Cats