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How To Teach Problem-Solving Skills To Kids

What Is Problem-Solving

Problem-solving is finding a path to reach a goal when the path is uncertain. Whenever we accomplish something without knowing how beforehand, we are solving a problem. It involves applying one’s experience to create possible solutions to meet a task’s requirement​1​.

We solve problems daily, such as deciding what to cook for dinner with the ingredients we have on hand, fixing a jammed printer, finding a quicker route to avoid traffic, etc.

While some problems have specific end results, others are more complex and less clearly defined. For example, “how to be successful” or “how to find happiness” are two examples of open-ended questions.

girl thinking sitting on ground in front of laptop


  1. Resolving conflicts between people.
  2. Locating missing homework.
  3. Fixing a broken toy.
  4. Balancing school work with extracurricular activities.
  5. Planning a social event with friends.
  6. Dealing with peer pressure or social problems.
  7. Deciding what to do when they are bored.
  8. Managing their allowance for buying items they want.
  9. Finding an internship to gain work experience.
  10. Managing their time and responsibilities to reduce stress.

How To Teach Kids

Problem-solving is an important 21st-century skill.

Unfortunately, teaching kids problem-solving skills is often not the focus of our education system.

Effective problem-solving requires both knowledge and adaptability, utilizing what one knows and adapting it to fit the situation at hand.

Unfortunately, after years of being told to follow directions, children often struggle to adapt what they have learned to solve real-life problems.

Parents play a crucial role in teaching their children problem-solving skills. Here are some tips on what parents can do to help kids develop strong problem-solving skills.

Problem-solving Steps

Solving problems is not a rigid, step-by-step process​1​. Deciding whether a complex strategy or a simple problem-solving approach is needed is also an important skill.

If water accidentally spills on the floor, deciding how to clean it up doesn’t require a 5-step process. But a framework is helpful, although not straightly required, for complex issues.

Use the following problem-solving steps when dealing with a larger or more complicated problem.

  1. The first step is to define the problem – describe what problem you are trying to solve and what results you want.
  2. Understand the constraints – find out what conditions can limit the solution.
  3. List all the possible ways to solve the problem, along with their pros and cons.
  4. Decide using reasoning.
  5.  Consider what to do the next time if the first solution fails.

Let Them Practice In Everyday Life

One of the best ways to learn to solve problems is to practice doing it.

Problem-solving opportunities are not limited to math or physics classes in school. Problem-solving activities can also be found outside of school in various situations.

Don’t limit a problem to one right answer, but allow for multiple possible outcomes. It may be as small as choosing a snack or as large as choosing what extracurricular activities to participate in.

Teach Them Critical Thinking and Decision Making

Critical thinking and decision-making are two great tools for a problem solver.

Instead of giving them answers, help children think critically about the problem. Teach them how to think from different perspectives and make their own decisions.

If a child asks you, “What should I do?” you can answer, “What do you think? What problem are you solving?”

Encourage creativity

One of the essential elements of problem-solving is the willingness to try different ways or come up with a variety of solutions to see what works best.

Real problems often have multiple correct answers​4​.

A child’s ability to come up with new ideas or engage in divergent thinking allows them to seek different solutions. Encourage them to think beyond the obvious. Try different strategies or different angles to get innovative solutions.

Parents keeping an open mind is also important to cultivate their child’s creative problem-solving. Be willing to accept your child’s creative solutions even if it is not what you expect.

Let Them Make Mistakes

It’s natural for parents to be protective of their children, including protecting them from failure.

We must accept their mistakes if we want them to learn to solve problems. Making mistakes is part of learning.

Give your child the space and opportunity to solve their own problems and learn from their mistakes.

Learning from natural consequences is a great way to sharpen their decision-making skills.

By learning while the stakes are small, they can avoid making the same mistakes in similar problems later when the stakes are higher.

Encourage Them To Try hard before getting help

Effective self-regulated learning involves knowing when and how to seek help​2​.

Studies find that seeking help in problem-solving tends to produce better results than not seeking help at all. However, research also shows that avoiding help initially and failing repeatedly produces even better learning in students​3​.

Children absorb better when they get help after making an effort to face challenges and understand the problem.

Thus, encourage your child to try hard first before seeking help. When helping them, ask where they are stuck and analyze what you can do to help there.


  1. 1.
    Martinez ME. What is problem solving? The Phi Delta Kappan. 1998;79(8):605-609.
  2. 2.
    Aleven V, Stahl E, Schworm S, Fischer F, Wallace R. Help Seeking and Help Design in Interactive Learning Environments. Review of Educational Research. Published online September 2003:277-320. doi:10.3102/00346543073003277
  3. 3.
    Roll I, Baker RSJ d., Aleven V, Koedinger KR. On the Benefits of Seeking (and Avoiding) Help in Online Problem-Solving Environments. Journal of the Learning Sciences. Published online October 2, 2014:537-560. doi:10.1080/10508406.2014.883977
  4. 4.
    Lubart TI, Mouchiroud C. Creativity: A Source of Difficulty in Problem Solving. The Psychology of Problem Solving. Published online June 9, 2003:127-148. doi:10.1017/cbo9780511615771.005

Updated on September 28th, 2023 by Pamela Li

Pamela Li is an author, Founder, and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting For Brain. Her educational background is in Electrical Engineering (MS, Stanford University) and Business Management (MBA, Harvard University). Learn more


    * All information on is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *

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