SINGAPORE: The challenges that might seem trivial to an adult can overwhelm a child: How do I tie my shoelaces? Reach the cookie jar on the shelf? Fix a puzzle by myself? Make friends in a new school? Forgot to do my Maths homework? Left my pocket money at home?
As parents, how can you help your kids work out their own solutions?
“We have created a culture of trying to make sure our kids are comfortable. We, as parents, are trying to stay one step ahead of everything our kids are going to run into,” noted Lynn Lyons, a psychotherapist who specialises in treating anxiety disorders in families and children. The problem, she pointed out, is “life doesn’t work that way.”
Problem-solving is one of the most valuable life skills you can equip your children with. In short, when life gives your kids lemons, you want to teach them how to make lemonade.
Here are five tips on how to equip your children with problem-solving skills.
DON’T BE A HELICOPTER PARENT
Helicopter parenting refers to “a style of parents who are over focused on their children”, noted Carolyn Daitch, director of Center for the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders. This means overdirecting and overprotecting your little one when he is capable of managing his own tasks and emotions which, in turn, robs him of precious life experiences and essential skills.
Instead of being a super hands-on parent who is always there for your children, give them freedom and allow for natural consequences when it’s appropriate and safe to do so.
Mum Jenny Choi shared an anecdote of her seven-year-old son Jaekan. One day, Jaekan realised he didn’t have enough to pay for his food as he had already spent all his recess money at the school bookshop. She said, “I told him that he had to think of a solution or go without food. He returned the items to the bookstore and the vendor was kind enough to refund him his money.”
When your children come to you with a problem, resist the urge to interfere. This will help them feel at ease with uncertainty and develop possible solutions to their problem.
ENCOURAGE CREATIVE THINKING
Six-year-old Chrystelle Wee was building a castle with blocks when her four-year-old brother, James, entered the room. “I want to build a train!” yelled James. “No, castle!” “Train!” “Castle!”
Their dad, Joel Wee, 36, knew that both kids would end up crying. He was about to interfere when he heard Chrystelle saying, “Let’s build a train outside the castle and all the princesses and knights could go on it!” James cheerily agreed. The children have invented a new way of playing and resolved their conflict without intervention. Guess who the happiest person in the room was? Dad, because he got to enjoy me-time for the rest of the afternoon.
Creative people display more flexibility and are better problem solvers. Always give your kids the opportunity to try novel experiences and experiment with new ideas. Encouraging them to think outside the box will help him develop problem-solving skills. You can spark their imagination by asking open-ended questions, encouraging dramatic play, using recycled materials to build things, and getting him to create a new ending to a story.
Grit is the ability to focus and the determination to finish a task. Often, your child will make it a habit to come directly to you for solutions. One minute, he could be joyfully decorating a bunch of popsicle sticks, when suddenly he throws a fit, “I can’t build a photo frame with these!”
Rather than chastise your kid or solve his problems for him, help him transit from helpless to tenacious by instilling a can-do spirit in him. Boost his confidence by assuring him that he’s capable of solving an issue even though he hasn’t tried.
Your heart will burst with pride when he tells you, “Mum, I did it all by myself!” When that happens, honour his tenacity with words like, “You’ve put a lot of hours into creating this beautiful art piece - I’m so proud of you!”
REFRAME CHALLENGES INTO OPPORTUNITIES
Help junior reframe his challenges by breaking them down into chunks. He will be able to analyse the problem better and see it from a different perspective. You’ll be surprised at the unexpected solutions he might come up with when the problem seems less overwhelming to him.
Help him by talking about his feelings and brainstorming solutions by asking the following questions:
- What happened? Why do you feel upset? Have you already tried?
- What are some things that you could do about this? What would happen if you chose that solution?
- What happens if you don’t fix this problem and choose to move on?
BE A GOOD ROLE MODEL
Kids learn most from observing their parents’ behaviour. They do what you do instead of what you say. When things go awry, stay calm and let junior see you pull it together.
“Dear me! I left the groceries at granny’s house, but have to rush off for my night shift right now!” exclaimed Gina Lee, 35, to her five-year-old son Samuel. “You could ask dad to pick it up for you,” Samuel suggested almost immediately.
When you make a mistake in front of him, admit it. Share your challenges with him or, better still, turn it into a brainstorming session, just like what Lee did, then watch him unleash his creative problem-solving skills.
A version of this story first appeared in SmartParents.