Problem solving is a process whereby the brain uses the experience its associated with some stimulation and information or the environment to handle a situation. Even though a young child can think, learn and solve problems, they are only able to solve simple problems that may be a part of their daily routines which are in accordance to their age. For example, they can tie their own shoelaces, climb up to reach things in high places successfully etc.

These are the early steps of development in children which will lead to other greater learnings in the future. A child development specialist says, children that can solve complex problems since young are likely to have a good development of intelligence¹. This is because of the joy and satisfaction a child gets when they have successfully solved a problem. It will be the driving force for them to fulfill their goals, self-motivate themselves and to continuously learn about other things that can help with their development in various aspects.

Practice Problem Solving in Their Daily Routine

The best way to let children practice problem solving skills is by letting the children prepare themselves for their daily activities as this will enable them to exercise their problem-solving skills accordingly. For example, let the children learn through trial and error when they prepare their own school meals and school uniforms. When they encounter problems such as not being able to find their school socks, parents may guide them on ways to solve the problem such as preparing the items in advanced, i.e. the evening before, learn to put things in a place that are easy to search to prevent the same problem from occurring in the future.

Here are a few recommended activities for you to help your little one cultivate their problem solving skills:

Recommended activities for children 1 year and above.
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Assign a chore for them to do

Your child’s everyday routine is a good avenue to help them develop their problem solving skills. For example, you can assign simple housework to them such as making up their own bed, sweeping the floor, picking up their dirty laundry to be washed in the washing machine or arranging the fork and spoon on the dining table. Start with simple tasks and when they are used to it, you can assign them with bigger tasks as they grow up. The assigned task will trigger them to think and figure out how to solve the problem.

To self-help

Allow the child to self-feed (from scooping the food with a spoon to feeding himself), brush their own teeth (squeezing toothpaste to the size of a mung bean as required), train them to wear their shirt or take it off (to gently insert their arms into the sleeves), wear socks and shoes by themselves etc. They may not be able to do it in the beginning, but with proper guidance, they will be able to connect their previous experiences with what they are currently doing through trial and error. Eventually, they will be able to complete the task successfully.

Build some obstacles for the child to overcome

In the event when children face some problems or obstacles that do not allow them to get what they want, it will teach them to figure out what the problems are and how to solve it themselves. However, parents must not immediately assist. Parents must let the child help himself first. For instance, when they want their parents to carry an object for them, don’t carry it for them immediately, instead, motivate them to think by asking questions such as “Why can’t you carry it on your own?”. They may think it’s because it is heavy, too high or too big. The following question that parents should ask would be, what does the child need to do if he must carry it himself. This will help the child figure out a way to solve problem first.

Open-ended play

Open-ended play can be done in a variety of styles depending on the child’s ideas and imagination. For example, if a toy cooking set is not available or incomplete, the child can use his imagination to create a variety of other things such as a basin, plates and spoons using boxes, sand, clay, oil or dough etc. This kind of activity will enable children to use their imagination to help them solve their problems in order to achieve what they want.

Play building blocks

A child learns how to balance the building blocks as he plays through self-learning. He has to figure out how to place a block and not allow them to fall. At first, the child may not be able to do it, but after a few tries, he will gradually learn how to place the block upwards. Children must use trial and error to polish their problem-solving skills while playing so they can overcome the obstacles.

Set up questions for the child to solve

Setting up questions for children to solve based on what happens in their daily lives is a good method to strengthen their problem-solving skills. For example, when the child covers the whole table with his toys and there’s no space left to put anything else, parents should first ask him “What should we do? I need space to put my bag on the table.” instead of immediately helping them to tidy up. By asking those questions, it will help children to think of ways to solve a problem better.

Play - Practice problem solving

Hand the children the first piece of toy to hold. After that, hand them the second piece of toy to hold using another hand. And then hand them a third toy and observe what they will do with it. Some children will put one of the toys in their hand down first before taking the third toy. Some will put it in between the first two pieces. It is an easy activity to train your child on problem solving skills. Mothers can also find other similar kind of games to play with their children.

Self-made toys

Encourage children to make toys from recycled materials such as paper box or plastic cups. They will be able to think of an idea on what they want to construct with the materials they have on hand and if they are unable to do it according to what they imagined, what can they change in order to construct their desired toy.