5 Ways to Encourage Problem Solving at an Early Age

When young children are exposed to problem solving, they learn to find a host of ways to strategize and come up with solution.  Mighty Mommy has 5 ways you can raise an independent problem solver.

Cheryl Butler
5-minute read
Episode #347

In today’s world of parenting our families are inundated with fast solutions and instant gratification. We have microwave ovens, Google search, ATM machines, On Demand movies, and so much more. These are certainly wonderful vehicles to have at our disposal, yet when we’re used to getting so many things at the drop of a hat, it can pose various frustrations when a difficult situation presents itself.

When kids are exposed to problems that allow them to be part of the solutproblem solving kidsion, it builds important skills that will carry over into their adult life.  Mighty Mommy has five ways you can raise an independent problem solver in your everyday lives.

Tip #1:  Focus on Their Efforts

Even when a child is a toddler, she's starting to explore her world as a beginning problem solver.  She’s navigating obstacles in her walking path, like trying to climb over an ottoman so that she can get to a toy on the other side of the room. Or she sees her cup of juice on the kitchen island but isn’t tall enough to reach it.  Because she’s not yet equipped with the language or skills to make these two things happen, she’s still able to process that she’s in need of these two things—and will now most likely try to pull herself up on the ottoman or even push into it so she can get closer to that toy.  She might point and babble at the cup of juice to let you know she’s thirsty and wants that cup of juice.

Instead of moving the ottoman or automatically handing her the cup of juice, take opportunities such as these to praise her efforts. “You’re trying to get to your teddy bear and the furniture is in the way. I see how hard you’re trying to move it.”  “Mommy will help you push it aside so you can get your bear.” “You’re thirsty and want your juice but it’s up too high”  “You’re pointing to your cup so Daddy can help you reach it.”  “Great job letting me know. Daddy will lift you up to help you reach it.”    Praising their efforts is an early way to start raising a problem solver.  See Also:  5 Ways to Connect With Your Preschooler

Tip #2:  How Can You Fix This?

We want to get children thinking about cause and effect and understanding how feelings affect their behavior so that they can learn to make better choices in the moment and figure out solutions on their own.  So when an opportunity presents itself where your child can be part of the solution, take a moment to engage him by saying, “Help me to understand,” about whatever the situation may be.  For example, yesterday my 9-year-old daughter came home from school without her trumpet.  She just started playing the instrument and has been very excited about it and tries to take it with her nearly everywhere she goes. Knowing she had a trumpet lesson that evening I wondered why she was returning home without it. Before I could even ask, she was teary-eyed and said that she thought she left the trumpet on the playground, but wasn’t sure. She admitted to letting several classmates try it out during recess and didn’t remember who had used it last. She looked devastated and thought I would be angry. I wanted to make it all better, but instead asked her, “How can you get your trumpet back?” After a few more tears, she thought about the kids who had tried it, and got their home phone numbers. After making the calls, one of her friends did remember that it was left near the monkey bars.  She then knew we’d have to get back to the school to check on the playground to see if it was still there (which, thankfully, it was!) and had to calculate how much time this would take so we’d make it to her lesson on time. It all worked out but I allowed her to take full responsibility for how that would happen. Now, hopefully, she’ll be more careful with her instrument.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.