The Efficient Way to Teach Children to Solve their Problems
I remember the day my baby first learned to stand on all fours.
His arms trembled and he tried for a few seconds until he was worn out and collapsed, his little face hitting the rug. He immediately started to cry and my heart filled with worry. Here I was right beside him and I couldn’t help him cope. I spent the rest of the day by his side, especially wary whenever he stood of his hands and knees; I protected his face so it shouldn’t bump the floor again. The next day when I took him to daycare I asked the teacher to pay attention that he was not strong enough to stand on all fours and was falling when he tried. I asked her to watch out for him. Her reaction was a burst of laughter. “Inesa my dear” she said, “your son is not the first to get up and fall down. That is exactly how children learn, develop and grow. Within a week he will know how to stand firmly on all fours, and you go to work and don’t worry.” I was so intent on preventing him from feeling any pain or failure that I didn’t realize I was impeding his natural development.
Today of course it sounds funny, but our tendency to protect our children stays with us for years. When children experience any type of failure or lack of success many parents become protective (and sometimes overprotective) and offer all kinds of compensations or consolations. It’s a natural desire every parent has, the need to protect and keep their children from pain. But recent research has shown that parental over-involvement leads to children growing up in a way which stops them from being able to cope with difficult experiences as adults. They don’t know how to solve their own problems because their parents never let them solve anything on their own.
From sibling rivalry, to fights with friends, to failing at various tasks, many parents feel the need to become involved immediately, to give a solution, to take responsibility. This need becomes a trap for parents and doesn’t allow the children to learn what they need to do on their own to get ahead and to find their own solutions independently.
And that has a snowballing effect on their ability to cope with and solve difficult situations – a snowball which keeps rolling downhill getting bigger and more complicated every time.
There are a number of typical traps parents fall into when their children face difficulty, failure and frustration:
- Blame – whose fault is it? You did that again?
- Judgment – how did that happen? Why did you do that?
- Limits – what are you not allowed to do? How not to do?
- Stress, anger, yelling, and expressing helplessness in the face of the child’s difficulty. All of these are very scary for children and shrink their world. The failure or the difficulties are interpreted as something final and definite which cannot always be solved.
Another trap is the trap of taking too much responsibility:
- Offering solutions
- Solving the problem themselves
These are situations which weaken children and deny them the privilege of learning to cope and learn from the situation.
Some research in the field recommends letting the children cope on their own with failure and difficulty, and decreasing parental involvement to a minimum. I would like to suggest a more moderate approach.
As someone who believes very much in children’s ability to learn and develop, I also believe in the importance of parental presence in children’s lives (note I said presence, not involvement). Showing children you care when they struggle, hurt or feel failure.
What can you do?
You can embrace an approach in which parents choose to be there to watch, comfort a little and lead the child’s learning process from the experience. There are parents who rush to give advice and clarify the lesson to be learned. This is the most inefficient type of learning for internalizing new ideas. The most efficient way to lead the learning process is by experience and participation. Parents who ask their children leading questions will open their children’s minds to drawing their own conclusions – and this is efficient learning from which you can grow and develop.
Asking questions is a great way to get the children involved and to encourage them to find solutions on their own. There are a number of questions which can be very helpful for children for finding solutions and learning from painful and frustrating situations, and I suggest you adopt one or two of them and practice them with your kids in almost all situations.
- What can you do differently next time?
- What can you learn from this?
- How can things be done differently?
- What options do you have for solving this?
- What did you learn from this?
- What would help you feel better now?
This type of question is open-ended and wakens the child’s unconscious to finding solutions on the one hand and on the other creates in him the feeling that his parents trust him to be able to solve the problem. And yes, it is relevant even for very young children. In fact, these are question which allow children to cope, to identify solutions with their parents’ guidance and to understand that they are capable of solving problems.
Adopt one of these questions for yourself and start using it already today with your children, even in mundane situations. You will be surprised by the original answers they give and by their ability to find solutions.
Oh, yes, there is one more bonus to adopting these questions: improved communication between your children and yourselves.
I would love to hear your reactions: what is the first question your adopting into your life, and how are you using it to your children’s advantage?