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Teaching Young Children Problem Solving

Denise speaks from her own experience. She has had many trials and difficulties in her own life and seeks to help others through theirs.

Children bring interesting dynamics into the home. Their needs are paramount, and caregivers are responsible to teach them the skills they need.

Children bring interesting dynamics into the home. Their needs are paramount, and caregivers are responsible to teach them the skills they need.

Children Need to Be Taught

Children are not born with problem solving skills, they have to be taught! With seven children ranging in age over a span of twelve years, I learned early that I needed to take advantage of teaching situations that occurred in my home. Doing so usually meant that we were able to avoid crises in public.

This hub addresses several situations where we, as caregivers, can intervene and teach children vital skills that enable them to learn problem solving early in life. As we do so, we stack the cards in our favor that their behavior in public will be appropriate. This hub addresses the following situations and demonstrates how to teach the problem solving skill listed:

  • Sharing - asking for what is wanted
  • Table Manners - cause and effect
  • Shopping - delayed gratification
When children learn to care for one another, the are much more likely to share.

When children learn to care for one another, the are much more likely to share.


Children at the age of two are just beginning to exert their independence and individuality. We frequently hear them say, "Mine!" or "I want to do it myself!" They have a strong will and curious mind. This causes conflict when children are playing together and they both want the same toy. When one child picks it up, immediately, the other child wants to have it as well, and a fight ensues. The following steps work wonders:

1. Sit down on the level of the children. Look into the children's eyes while speaking to them. If necessary hold out a hand and say "Stop" or "Look at me" so that they stop quarreling over the toy.

2. Have the child who wants the toy ask for it. Help the child formulate the question, "Can I play with the toy, please?" Then have them wait for a response from the other child. It is helpful to hold their hand so that they do not just grab.

3. Allow the other child to respond. If the response is positive, praise the child for being willing to share. If the response is negative, teach the child to say, "You can play with it as soon as I am done." This will usually appease the child that wants the toy, and they will wait until the other child is finished with it.

Sharing doesn't usually happen until children experience ownership and possession. We teach this when they are toddlers by helping them ask when they want to play with a toy another child has. We will know that they have internalized it when they teach each other how to do it. Until then, whenever this type of problem surfaces, we sit down with them and walk them through it. They soon realize that if they ask nicely or politely, they are more likely to get what they want from another person. This important problem solving skill will be an advantage to them when they are in school and even the workplace.

The way our children behave at the table is reflected in how they treat each other away from the table.

The way our children behave at the table is reflected in how they treat each other away from the table.

Table Manners

The principle of cause and effect is best taught to our children while they are at the table. Our ability to teach them good table manners will be reflected in all aspects of their lives. We do this using the "If-Then" concept. The following is an example

Behavior: The child climbs up onto the table during mealtime.

Parent says to the child: "We do not climb on the table. You need to get down off the table."

Child replies: "No!"

Parent says: "If you do not get down off the table yourself, then I will pick you up and take you off the table."

Because most young children want to exert their independence, they will readily get down off the table by themselves. When they do so, the parent thanks them for getting off the table. If, however, the child does not, the parent then performs the action of picking up the child and taking them off the table.

The following graph shows how the "If-then" concept can be used to teach children table manners. The first column is labeled "Manners" and indicates the rule to be taught. the "Compliance" column gives an example of the privilege the child is allowed "If" the rule is followed. the "Consequence" column shows what happens when the child does not comply with the rule. It is our choice whether we focus our "If-Then" directives on positive compliance or the negative consequences of non-compliance. Personally, I use the one with the most immediate result.


Keep hands and feet to yourself.

The child is allowed to choose where they sit at the table.

The child must sit next to the parent or in the seat the parent chooses.

Take at least one bite of the food served.

If the child does not like the item, the child is allowed to fix him or herself a sandwich or other desirable food.

The child does not get anything else to eat until the following meal.

Say please for items wanted and thank-you after they are given.

The item is passed to the child and they are praised.

The item is not passed until the proper words are used.

Remain at the table until food served is eaten.

Dessert is allowed.

Dessert is not allowed.

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Children are perfectly capable of understanding cause and effect when the consequences of their actions are immediate. They realize that if they want certain things to happen, they need to comply with what the parents are enforcing. Our ability to be firm and consistent in our teaching will largely determine the outcome.

Children at this age want to be in charge of their own world. They like to choose what they wear, the activities they are involved in, and what they want to eat. As parents, we give them guidelines for making these choices. We teach them which actions are appropriate and which are not. If they choose those things that are not in keeping with the guidelines, we give a direct consequence using the "If-Then" concept.

It does not take long before they realize that the choices that they make do matter and have a direct bearing on what they are allowed to do. Our ability to enforce consequences that are predictable, immediate, and related to the situation enables our children to know what is expected of them.

When we realize that there is always a sale, we are able to help our children make wise shopping decisions and avoid marketing traps.

When we realize that there is always a sale, we are able to help our children make wise shopping decisions and avoid marketing traps.


Shopping with young children can be a nightmare unless we have done some homework. Making a plan is imperative. We have to know where we are going, what we want to get while we are there, and how we will handle our children's insistent pleas to buy the things that they see. The following guidelines are helpful:

  • Talk ahead of time about where shopping will take place, what can be expected, and how children are to behave while in the store.
  • Let children know what is on the list of things to buy and allow them to help pick the items from the shelves and put them in the cart.
  • Plan for the children to make choices that affect them directly. For example, if one item on the list is cold cereal, pick out several boxes that are acceptable to you as a parent, and allow the children to take turns choosing which one to buy.
  • Prepare a special treat or other desirable item as an incentive for positive behavior. Praise every effort to make it happen, and give only occasional reminders. Make sure it is earned before it is given. Allow the children to experience disappointment if they have not earned it. They will do better the next time around.

Young Children are Capable of Solving Problems

The majority of children want to do the right thing. If we give them the benefit of the doubt and help them comply, they will usually meet our expectations. Delayed gratification is a difficult concept, even for adults. We want our needs to be met immediately, and have very little patience with having to wait. Children are no different.

When we make sure that they are prepared ahead of time and have ample opportunity for compliance, we enable their positive behavior. Other things that help are seeing that they are well rested, have eaten before taking them into shopping areas, and are involved in some way. The color, sound, and excitement of a shopping trip can be a positive experience for our children if we plan and prepare ahead.

Children are very capable of learning problem solving skills at a young age if we take the time to teach them. Using the circumstances we have in our own homes will help our children learn the vital skills necessary to help them be successful in public places. As they learn to ask for what they want, understand the power of cause and effect, and are able to delay gratification, their emotional health will be affected for the better, and so will our own!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Denise W Anderson


mrashid khan buzdar from dgkhan punjab pakistan I from dgkhan punjab on January 11, 2021:

may he live long

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on June 27, 2018:

We all have to start somewhere, Abraham. I appreciate you reading and commenting!

Abraham Olalekan from Lagos Nigeria on June 27, 2018:

This is great! Am learning....

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on April 01, 2017:

I could not agree with you more, Marc. Both my husband and I work in the public school system. My husband was a band teacher for many years and is currently a school administrator. After our children were all in school, I returned and finished my education. I worked as a School Psychologist for a time and am currently substitute teaching. Yes, the schools are teaching to the tests, as that is the only way they have found to measure progress. Unfortunately, that is not the reason children do not have the skills they need. In my experience, it has been the lack of teaching in the home that has resulted in the lack of skills in our youth. If problem solving skills are not taught in the home prior to children entering the school system, the school cannot do enough intervention to make up for it. The school systems that our family has had experience with do the best they can with the what they are given. Unless our society puts more emphasis on teaching in the family and the home, we will continue to see a lack of problem solving skills in the youth who come out of our schools.

Marc Lee from Durham, NC on March 31, 2017:

Unfortunately, I sometimes even our school system is getting away from teaching true problem solving but is instead teaching to the tests.....Critical thinking skills are something that need to be made more attention to in our school system and in life in general...

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on June 05, 2015:

My pleasure, Denise. You too!

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on June 05, 2015:

Thanks Kristen! I appreciate your feedback. Take care!

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on June 05, 2015:

My pleasure, Denise. I did find it helpful and useful for parents all alike. It'll make them better people in the end as adults.

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on June 05, 2015:

Thanks, Kristen! I'm glad that you found it to be helpful! It is wise for us to teach our children when they are young and eager to learn, as well as to please the adults in their lives. My best to you!

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on June 05, 2015:

Denise, this was an excellent hub on teaching your children proper social skills and etiquette for good rewarding behavior. Voted up for very useful!

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on May 06, 2015:

You are right, RTalloni! The best time to teach problem solving skills is when children are young. Then, they are much more likely to look to their parents for help and guidance with everyday life. By the time they reach their teen years, the parents are not as popular or knowledgeable in their eyes, but problem solving skills are still sorely needed! I appreciate your comments!

RTalloni on May 05, 2015:

Helping children learn to solve problems is one of the most important things parents need to learn about. Thanks for useful examples that can be used as a spring board to grow up parenting skills.

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on February 05, 2015:

I hear you, nybride710! I think that all parents feel that way! When we finally learn what we need to about parenting, we are way past the time of being able to use it! My own have had their share of difficulties, like the time my 20+ daughter thought she was getting "free" money when it asked if she wanted money back on her debit purchase! $500 later...... now we understand!

Lisa Kroulik from North Dakota on February 04, 2015:

I did my best, but I wish I would have taught my children better problem-solving skills when they were younger. My 18-year-old especially seems to be at a loss on how to solve problems sometimes.

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on November 17, 2014:

I'm sorry that you haven't been getting notifications! I do have a new list serve that I am using for people to get weekly updates of my writings. To sign up, go to: It is called "For Your Emotional Health" and has my current publications on Hub Pages, my blog, and resources to help establish and maintain emotional health.

William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on November 15, 2014:

Hi Denise,

Since I started following you a while back ago, I've gotten zilch notifications of your hubs. Isee I have some catch up to do. Glad I caught this one.

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on November 03, 2014:

Thanks, Ms. Dora. Our children are our future. What we do with them today is what really counts. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on November 03, 2014:

Really wise and practical approach to these everyday situations in the lives of parents and children. Very helpful and voted up!

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on October 31, 2014:

Thanks, Janice! I appreciate the vote of confidence!

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on October 31, 2014:

That is a tough stage, Carol! I have several grandchildren at that point right now and they are a handful! I'm glad that you found this article helpful. I appreciate you stopping by and commenting.

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on October 31, 2014:

He was a wise man, Bill, critical thinking skills don't happen by accident, they are taught and reinforced by wise teachers. Thanks for the insight!

Janice Horner on October 30, 2014:

I like this! For new parents, and those who are experiencing some difficulties with their children, a brilliant guide. Voted up!

Success In Life from U.S. on October 30, 2014:

My daughter is at the "everything is mine stage" we are working on it! Thanks for the insight

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 30, 2014:

Early in my teaching career I was lucky enough to attend a workshop taught by Fr. O'Malley, a celebrated educator from Boston. His central message was that the greatest gift teachers can give to their students is critical thinking skills. I still believe that today.

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