Problem behaviors in children tend to be a matter of great concern for most parents. Frequently parents feel very baffled and hassled by the behavior issues that their children display. It is easy for a parent to feel irritated, frustrated and agitated by the situation as despite multiple attempts they may find the child engaging in the same maladaptive, problem behavior.

In such a situation, it becomes apparent that the child may not possess the requisite problem solving skills which are key to negotiating difficult or stressful circumstances. As a result, it becomes pertinent that the parent help their child in developing the required problem solving skills so that the challenging behavior is replaced with more adaptive and effective behaviors.

Understanding Problem Solving

Problem solving is a significant cognitive activity which requires a lot more than simply regulating one’s behavior. So it is not just about inhibiting certain behaviors or increasing the frequency of others, rather it involves a complex interplay of knowing what one wants, setting the goals, developing a strategy for achieving the goals, understanding the barriers that may exist in achieving the goals and making the required adjustments to achieve success. At the same time, problem solving is intricately linked to having a good understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses. It also requires that a child develop the ability to understand the impact of their actions on another and the consequences of the same.

Key Aspects to be Considered in Enhancing Problem Solving Skills

In order to help a child build or enhance their problem solving skills the following aspects need to be more fully considered and kept in mind:

  • Understanding of the problem – As a parent or an adult working with the child it is important to have a robust understanding of the problem at hand. It is easy for us to look at the behavior which is being displayed, but what is more critical is having a more comprehensive understanding of what within the environment may be causing the child to react or behave in the way that he is. Typically there is a function that is being served by the problem behavior and understanding that function is critical in being able to determine what replacement behavior needs to be introduced.
  • Developmental appropriateness of the skills – It is also important that we recognize problem solving skills as developing over the course of time. It is essential that when deciding that there is a deficit in problem solving skills, as assessment needs to be made of whether the skills being displayed are developmentally appropriate or not. Only if the skills are deficient from a developmental perspective should any interventions be engaged with.
  • Transferring control to the child – Frequently parents and adults find it difficult to transfer the control of their responses to situations to the child. We have a tendency to want to do as much as we can for our children. However, this tends to interfere with the development of both thinking and problem solving skills.

Steps Involved in Problem Solving

The following can be considered to be the key steps which need to be taught or shared with your child that would allow the development and utilization of effective problem solving skills –

1. Establish a goal.

2. Determine if there are any obstacles or challenges which may make it difficult to achieve the desired goal.

3. Devise a plan to reach towards your goal while having a strategy to avoid or tackle the obstacles.

4. Think about how well the strategy may work.

5. Engage in the strategy that has been designed.

6. Compare what you thought about how the strategy would work and how it actually worked.

7. Determine where you may need to adjust your strategy to be able to reach your goal more effectively.

Your Role as the Parent

As a parent you play perhaps the most significant role in enhancing and improving your child’s problem solving skills and abilities. There are some basic things which you can do that would help ensure that your child is applying the right skills in the right way to move beyond the challenges that face them and they are not resorting to nay challenging or maladaptive behaviors instead.

  • Do not ask the question “why” always to your child. Children frequently do not have a response to the question of why. The more one tries to determine the answer behind the “why” of the behavior, the more one ensures that there is no resolution to the problem at hand and the child does not develop an understanding of what alternate behavior could have been there instead.
  • Do not get angry or agitated. Instead try to develop an understanding of what the child was attempting to achieve through engaging in the behavior that he did. Anger and other negative emotions only make the child feel very bad about themselves and the situation and induce guilt or they may make a child more rigid and stubborn over time as they are not developing an understanding of what to do.
  • Help your child identify what they could have done instead. Developing a robust understanding of the replacement behavior is far more important than pointing out that the child is not being good in how he is behaving.
  • Be concrete in your discussions with your child. It is important that you discuss very concrete things that can be done and not simply state that a behavior should not take place.
  • Be patient in allowing the replacement behavior to become more permanent in the behavioral repertoire of your child. Remember that for any new behavior to replace an existing one it takes time and so you would need to be very patient. It is possible you may have to in a stepwise fashion initially redirect your child to the new behavior for the first few times till it becomes something that he engages with naturally and on his own later.
  • Do not target too many problems at the same time. When working with your child only try and bring about a change in 1 or 2 problems at a time. If you attempt to change too many things the child would not be able to do so and it would be a frustrating experience for both of you.
  • Model the right skills and behaviors to your child. Children learn the most through observation and this fact makes it imperative that you too behave in the same way that you expect your child to.

Problem solving skills are critical to success in life and it is important that you work towards enhancing these skills in your child.