In the amount of time I’ve been a therapist, I’ve heard these three little words said on repeat to the point where I think they are permanently engrained on my brain: “I just can’t.” I often hear these words from children who find themselves in an unpleasant circumstance, and they switch to this default because they don’t have confidence in themselves to be able to move through the situation. A very big problem that I see facing children and teenagers in the recent generations is the lack of confidence when it comes to their abilities to solve problems. And why wouldn’t we see this? We live in a world where ease and comfort take priority over struggle. You can see this in how people tend to go bonkers when the internet is offline for some reason. But all joking aside, our children are growing up in a world where problem solving is becoming more of a rarity than commonplace. So how do we teach our children how to problem solve? What are some main points that we can focus on in terms of helping our kids grow and develop in this area?
1. We allow our children to go through unpleasant circumstances within reason. I know that I just sounded cold and heartless for a total of five seconds with that last statement, but there is a methodology to my reasoning here. I think that some of the greatest generations to have lived were people that went through great struggles as a society and individually. Why? They learned to cope with the situation instead of running from or complaining about it. Sometimes the only way that you can learn to cope with a problem is by going through a problem. It builds one of the most important character muscles that any of us can develop, resiliency. Resiliency involves making the choice to suceed or fight through a situation no matter what the odds are. When you have a strong resiliency muscle, it empowers you to achieve and progress in ways that you never thought possible. There is a point in time when we as parents must reach in and intervene in order to protect our child’s health and wellbeing, but we can’t protect them from everything.
2. We focus on our children’s strengths and helping them with develop them. Many times we end up focusing on our weaknesses and we tend to use those weaknesses as a means to avoid either moving forward or owning up to our own personal responsibilities in some matters. Focusing on our strengths and knowing when to apply those strengths in a strategic manner, helps with building up confidence. When addressing these matters with your children, you can always ask the question, “You’re very good at listening to your friends. How can you use that to solve this problem?” This can help children see that they can solve these particular issues on their own and with some of the skills they already have.
3. We don’t spoon feed the answers to our children. This is a hard thing for us as parents to refrain from. Many times we end up getting into the habit of just giving our children the answers to a problem because we don’t like seeing them struggle or we don’t like them bothering us too much. But what does that really do in the long run? It creates this idea in the child’s mind that they can’t figure out the answers themselves, or even branch out into finding the answers for themselves. We need to employ our children’s natural curiosity and encourage it within reason in order to help them with being able to handle different situations. We can help our child use their natural curiosity by asking them questions along the lines of, “What are your options for this situation? What would be the best option? What do you know about this situation already? If you are missing any information, where could you find out more?”
4. We treat our children as experts of their own problems within reason. Many times we treat our children as if they don’t know anything about life and they need to be coddled or brought down to reality. While there are times when we must be realistic with our children, we don’t need to treat them as if they are foolish or stupid all the time. I like to say that our children often gather bits and pieces of information that we would never know about or look for ourselves because they are in different situations that we are not. We would be foolish as parents to not take what they know and use it to our advantage in some ways. When it comes to our children’s problems, we can say to them, “Kiddo, you are really smart and you may already have the answer, but you don’t know it yet. Talk to me about what you know and how you think you can use it in this situation.”
5. Encourage your children to ask for help if they need it. One of the biggest mistakes that we as parents could make is the idea that we can’t ask for help and we have to solve all of our problems ourselves. A way to teach our children about asking for help, we can always ask our children these questions as a litmus test, “Do you think that you are in charge of solving this problem in this situation or not? If you are, what do you need to do? If not, then how can you let this go?” Once you have the answers, you can ask the question, “Do you think you might need help with this situation. How do you want help? Do you need it from me or from someone else?”
6. Model positive and healthy coping skills for your children. We lead by example and our children are always looking. Don’t ever underestimate your ability to handle difficult situations and don’t underestimate your child’s eyesight while you do. Many times parents tend to handle bad situations poorly and then wonder why their children do the same. Showing our children by our own behaviors helps them put a visual to what we are saying. Children often don’t understand big words or phrases so we have to show them through actions and feelings. When we show positive coping strategies on a consistent basis, we show our children that these methods work.
One of the most important lessons that we can impart to our children while they are young is the ability to solve their own problems as much as they can. If they can come up with solutions to the problem, then they can tear down barriers with ease and be able to live their lives on their terms. We owe it to our children to give them every chance to succeed and live a full life.