Problem Solving with Preschoolers

How often do you hear these cries from your preschooler?—"He hit me! That's mine! You're not coming to my birthday party because you're MEAN!” I know that often those words seem to be the soundtrack playing in our classroom. As parents and teachers we have a natural compassion for these children. We want to help, we want to make life easier for them. But often, by stepping in and solving the problem for them we’re actually undermining their development and making it more difficult for them to become the self-motivated, determined, and resourceful children we want them to be. Here are some research based and classroom tested guidelines we use for problem solving in our classroom.

1. Step back. If the children don’t ask for help solving their problem, step back and watch them work. We try to only step in if we’ve been asked, or if someone is going to hurt themselves or another person. Let them exercise their emerging problem solving skills and often times they can work it out for themselves.

2. Helping does not mean fixing. Even if your child requests your help, that still does not mean you should solve the problem for them. Your role is best left to be a calm and collected moderator and a narrator. You are there to observe, keep the children safe, and assist them in putting their thoughts into words.

3. Problem solving steps. In the classroom when the children ask for our help we assist them in working through the following key steps.

1. What is the problem?

Give both sides the opportunity to voice their viewpoint. Summarizing what they've said can also be helpful. For example, "It sounds like the problem is Sally wants the doll and John has it, is that right?" Do your best to stay neutral, and avoid putting blame on one child or the other.)

2. How can we solve it?

This is where you brainstorm together. Sometimes the children can come up with a solution on their own, often they need you to give them two positive choices to pick from. For example--"We could ask John to let Sally know when he's done, or we could set a timer for 5 minutes and then it will be Sally's turn--which would you like to do?"

3. Is the problem solved?

Both children should agree that the problem is solved before play resumes. Sometimes this means you hold the doll while they're deciding to help them remain focused on the problem.

Remembering these key points will help you guide your child to becoming a great problem solver, a skill that will help them with the rest of their lives!

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