Creative Problem Solving in the Life and Times of a Young Child

Ginger Carlson
January 2, 2015

My focus is creativity and how we as parents and caregivers can encourage a fulfilled and creative life in our children as they grow and mature. So, towards that end, I turn to the young child as a social being and how being able to tap into their creativity, which in turn means their ability to solve problems effectively (and with a certain degree of uniqueness) will not only be a step towards living a creative life, but will also serve them socially during this wonderfully unique time in their lives and beyond.  

The simple fact is that life is full of all kinds of problems: learning how to use words instead of fists, power struggles with parents or caregivers, having to share your favorite toy during a play date, or any number of situations we humans find ourselves in day after day. And luckily, life is full of even more solutions than there are problems. The game of course is which of the many possible solutions will we choose and how will we be a part of that solution. Certainly, it is a lifelong skill that will serve anyone well.

Pieces of the Problem-Solving Puzzle

Our goal is to rear children who can eventually approach the problems they face, socially or otherwise, with a mind towards knowing they can find a solution and learn from their process. Eventually they will gain the confidence in their ability to tackle what life presents them with. The puzzle in parenting can often be helping children to navigate the social situations they find themselves in. Ultimately, there are a few pieces we can share, model and continually reinforce with our children that will help them figure how this puzzle all fits together. They are:

1. Understand that there is something that needs a solution. Just being able to identify that not everyone is feeling good is the first piece in the problem-solving puzzle.

2. Communicate their needs. Give children the words they need to respectfully ask for what they need and desire. 

3. Listen to the needs of others. Show children how to be a good listener by repeating what you hear. 

4. Recognize a variety of ways to solve the problem.  Come up with a variety of solutions and decide on what you will do together.  Sometimes children don't like any of the solutions except their own idea.  That's okay.  Just keep coming up with ideas together, and perhaps help them try to meld a few ideas into one that will work. 

Sometimes solving a problem is easier said than done, but with adequate practice, and patience on the part of the guiding adults, children will learn how the pieces in their friendship puzzle all fit together.

Provide Examples

Of course we know that modeling is the best (and, as Einstein said, the only) way to learn something. So in an effort to show children that problems indeed do have solutions, talk (age appropriately) about the kinds of problems you are solving each day in your life. Give simple steps to how you solved the problem and especially share some of the things you tried that didn't work so children can also have a model of your perseverance. As well, if you are sharing a simple problem you solved with one of your adult friends or colleagues, talk to children about times that you didn't get your way and how it worked out in the end (i.e., I'm so glad we decided to do what she wanted to do instead because it was so fun!). In addition, tell stories about past problems you've solved using Once when I was little stories. 

Another wonderful way to provide models of solving problems is by using picture books and other written or oral stories you might come across.

 A few of my favorites include: 

Lupe Vargas and Her Super Best Friend by Amy Costales

A lovely story of two great friends who create, play, argue, and eventually solve their problems together.  Told in both English and Spanish.





It's Mine by Leo Lionni

The story of three frogs who argue over who owns the pond and island. Eventually, a storm helps them realize and value sharing and each other.





And my personal favorite is The Table Where Rich People Sit by Byrd Baylor. 

This is a most amazing story about a family meeting (a wonderful model for any family who wants to incorporate them) and one girl's discovery of what is really valuable in life.  Told in prose like only the fabulous Byrd Baylor can.




Keep Keepin' On

Sometimes some friendships and relationships take more time to deepen than others.  Although it is a tempting route for sure, don't just give up on playgroups, one-on-one play dates, or other situations that might be initially tough going.  The more we can try to understand the phases and stages a particular child might be going through, and help children navigate the dynamics of different social situations, the more they will grow together as friends.  As well, they will be building foundations for how they will develop and handle relationships in the future. 

Take a Break

Children today have all kinds of opportunities where they are regularly faced with sharing, waiting their turn, and talking about their feelings. Those are all valuable skills, but can easily overwhelm a child if we forget to give them processing time.  Especially when children are constantly scheduled or have siblings to contend with, consider just giving them a break from all that.  I like to call days like that yes days, days when their choices and desires are honored and valued.  After all, by saying yes children then learn the feelings a yes can bring and it trickles into their play and ways of being with the people they come in contact with.

Problem solving, and the ability to do so, doesn't just happen for any human being.  It is definitely a learned skill, one that enhances relationships and leads to a more creative life.  But it certainly takes work and continued modeling for it to happen.  Then one magical day, as children grow and mature, you'll listen from the other room as your child and her friend come to some sort of impasse in their play. Lo and behold, you overhear them use their words, offer ideas, and come to a solution together!


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