In Choices for Children: Why and How to Let Students Decide, Alfie Kohn writes, “The way a child learns how to make decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions.”
It’s never too early to start allowing our children to develop the important skill of problem-solving. One of the key components in problem-solving is, of course, having a problem to solve. Not to worry, throughout the course of a day, both my eight-month-old and my two-and-a-half-year-old have no trouble finding problems. Phrases like, “No, I don’t like that”, “Help, I’m stuck!”, and my personal favorite, complete with a generous portion of whining, “I can’t get it!!” Not to mention the sweet simplicity of a cry from a frustrated baby trying to reach a small chewable giraffe. We have no shortage of problems in this household. In fact, to the untrained eye, one could surmise that our day consists of a series of problems loosely held together by a reliable routine.
Knowing that winter has descended upon us, I am trying to take advantage of the nice weather we have been having and get outside before the real cold temps arrive. Finn, my oldest, and I, were playing a game of “hang the old milk carton crate on the tree and try to throw a ball in it.” Naismith would have been proud.
Daddy’s turn: I took a shot, miss.
Finn’s turn: Miss.
Daddy’s turn: Miss. What?
Daddy’s turn again: Made it!
I easily get the ball out of the crate, as Finn says “Oh, yeah!” like I just slam dunked over Ewing.
Finn’s turn: Makes it!
He walks over to the basket, barely reaching the bottom.
“I can’t get it! Daddy get it! Finn can’t get it!!”
It’s true, he couldn’t get it.
Houston, we have a problem.
Cue the frantic child who wants his ball back. Action!
Here comes the difficult part, having the patience, and the time, to allow for the “solving” portion to occur. This is when we must be careful not to step in too soon. If you pay attention to what your child is trying to do, you’ll have a pretty good idea of when to intervene. Even then, simply offering advice, or a tool is sufficient. Helping to problem solve can teach our kids how to find solutions and think about obstacles in different ways. But it is important to give them the time to work it out themselves, and struggle a little. It’s a slight shift from frustration to “let me try and figure this out”. It’s an important shift that must be developed. Learning how to deal with frustration and being able to let that fuel problem-solving is an invaluable life skill.
Back to Madison Square Backyard…
After complaining and begging for help, Finn began to think about what he needed. He grabbed the stool that he uses to wash his hands at the sink, and carried it over, climbed up, and got the ball.
How easy it would have been for me to just get the ball for him? But who really benefits from my solving this problem? We have to realize is that they’re going to make mistakes, many mistakes, and it’s all part of the process. The process of growing up. They will put their shoes on backward and write letters upside down. Our kids need opportunities to fail, so they can try for themselves to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. There is a solution. Once they start looking for it, they will be developing problem-solving skills and can begin appreciating their own success.
About the author
Bryan Grossbauer is an actor, musician, former teacher, and full-time stay-at-home dad. Bryan and his wife, Erin O’Callaghan, live in New Rochelle and enjoy traveling, hiking, and live music. Follow his adventures at redwagonstories.blogspot.com and @bryangrossbauer on Twitter.