Life presents an infinite series of choices and being able to make one that feels like the right choice based on the information that you have available is an essential component to a life well-lived. Each day presents a myriad of opportunities; from the seemingly inconsequential tasks that our days consist of to the big, fate-altering decisions. 

The ability to evaluate a situation, assess your options, and choose the most appropriate course of action can bring feelings of peace and happiness. Problem solving skills are an amazing gift to bestow on your developing child to help them feel empowered and prepared to take on life challenges..


How do you teach kids problem solving skills?

Raising your kids to be capable, well-rounded adults is one of the primary goals of parenting, and problem solving is a critical element of that equation. However, making a time to teach critical thinking and creative problem solving can be difficult as we wade through the day-to-day chores like helping with homework and mediating sibling disputes. 

Opportunities to teach problem solving skills are abundant and simple activities can serve as the catalyst for a conversation around identifying possible solutions.  

Learning problem solving skills may seem like a byproduct of life experience,  just something that grows organically along the way, but you can give your little one a head start by teaching them about creative thinking and helping them gain confidence in their decision-making abilities.  


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How do you make problem solving fun?

What — you don’t think problems are fun? Yeah, join the club. As parents, we hate to see our children struggle or suffer and it seems easier, and sometimes faster, to step in and fix whatever obstacle they’re facing. However, it can be valuable to teach your child how to brainstorm their own solution in times of challenge.

The first step is to recognize appropriate learning opportunities. A child’s problem can range from something minor, like not being able to reach an item on the top shelf, to something that feels like a very big deal, like being excluded from their friend group in middle school. The former can be transformed into a simple problem solving exercise whereas the latter might require listening and gentle guidance instead. 

Similar to most other teaching techniques, the best way to learn is through open communication, play, and practice. Try to start using these techniques while your child is young and incorporate thinking skills and creative decisions. Making these activities a part of your daily lives helps to empower your child to feel more confident in their problem solving abilities.


7 fun problem solving activities for kids

Play presents a powerful opportunity for learning. Approach teaching problem solving skills as yet another learning game with the following fun activities:


Interactive storytelling  

Children of all ages are easily captivated by a compelling story. From picture books for preschoolers to young adult literature, there’s always a plot offering up a conflict to solve or a social problem to work through. Help your child enjoy a more engaging reading experience by asking questions about what the main character may be feeling or experiencing, and ask for their opinion about what steps the character could take to solve the challenges they may be facing. 


Pretend play 

Roleplaying is a fun way to expose your child to new experiences or situations in a safe, low-pressure setting. Join your child in creative play and gently guide them towards scenarios that require problem solving. For instance, if you’re playing school, take on the role of a student who doesn’t want to do the assigned activity. If you’re playing grocery store, act as if a power outage has made the cash register inoperable. What should we do now? Invite your child to save the day with their solution and talk about a variety of ways they could tackle the problem. 


Board games 

Family game night can be even more meaningful than simply spending time together because it provides a potential opportunity for problem solving.. Check out games like Lion in My Way, Quirkle, Mind Blox, Cat Crimes, or more traditional options like chess or checkers, based on the age ranges and interests of your family. Board games are also an excellent lesson in taking turns, being a good sport, and anger management.


Team building activities 

Working together to solve a problem is an ideal way to practice social skills in a small group, while also focusing on critical thinking skills. Organizations like Odyssey of the Mind challenge children of all ages to think creatively while working collaboratively, but you could arrange something less formal with a friend group, sports team, or scout den. Many of the activities consist of using everyday items in unusual ways. For instance, ask the group to build a structure using seven pieces of paper — no tape, paperclips, string, or other components — and award points for every inch of height. Set a timer for a group planning period and then a time limit for completing their challenge. Encourage the group to review the project after the fact to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of their strategy. 


Treasure hunt 

For a fun rainy day or indoor activity, design a problem-solving treasure hunt for your child by hiding small items or treats around the house along with cards that contain obscure hints that would direct them to the next clue. You can use picture-based clues or riddles regarding household objects to easily customize your treasure hunt to your child’s age range or skill level.  


Question and answer quiz

Thought-provoking conversation is an excellent learning aid and a good way to keep the family entertained on long car rides, in waiting rooms, or at your dinner table. Make up a list of “What would you do if…” type questions and ask everyone to take turns answering. If your child thrives off of friendly competition, you can up the ante by assigning points for the most creative or unusual answer or continue the conversation by asking even more questions based on their offered solution. 


Open-ended play 

Sometimes the best way to learn can be through life’s more natural lessons. Young children discover a lot about cause and effect and creative thinking through unstructured play. Provide toys like Lego, train tracks, art supplies, or wooden building blocks and step back and watch the magic happen. Open-ended play is the perfect way to “teach” problem solving as it is a natural and fun way to practice trying solutions independently. 

You can’t solve all of your child’s problems, but you can teach them how to use critical thinking and problem solving skills,  which are a far more valuable contribution to their self-esteem and personal development. Help your child learn how to identify an issue, ask the right questions, brainstorm ideas, choose the best option available, and reflect on the outcome by framing problem solving as a fun activity instead of an obstacle.