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Ask These 2 Questions to Improve Your Child's Problem Solving Skills

Updated: Sep 13, 2021


Recommended age: 5+

Will enhance these social and emotional skills:

Self Awareness: Identify own feelings and emotions, increase self confidence

Self Management: Emotional regulation

Responsible Decision-making: Problem Solving


Problem solving is such an essential life skill that people of all ages, from toddlers to adults, use it on the daily basis.

We do it consciously and unconsciously. Where sometimes it's automatic for familiar or minor problems. And sometimes we're brought to a full stop by complex problems.

When we think about the process of problem solving, it is usually these 5 steps:

  1. Define the problem.

  2. Understand the problem.

  3. Brainstorm solutions.

  4. Evaluate the solutions: Weight pros, cons, advantages, and risks.

  5. Choose and apply the solution.

But is that too robotic? Even a bit simple? And for children, are they able to think this logically when facing a problem?

Without trying to overcomplicate the process, because we should be spending time solving problems, there are two questions I think is important to include for children's problem solving process.

The two questions will acknowledge the child behind the process and and make finding the appropriate solutions more effective.

Question 1: "How does the problem make you feel?"

After defining the problem, it is important for your child to be aware of how the problem makes them feel.

Feelings and problems go hand in hand. As problems can trigger feelings and feelings can indicate there is a problem.

One of my favorite quote that gives us a sensible perspective on feelings is by Lysa Terkeurst.

"Feelings are indicators, not dictators. They can indicate where your heart is in the moment, but that doesn't mean they have the right to dictate your behavior and boss you around."

Feelings are like our body's alarm system as it interprets what things mean to us.

When you include this question in your child's problem solving process, it helps them draw attention to their feelings so it does not dictate their behaviors. Since feelings are often experienced unconsciously, children are better able to navigate them if brought into awareness.

The other benefit of this question is it can reveal details to deepen the understanding of the problem and help with brainstorming solutions.


Let's look at an example scenario of how important details of the problem can be revealed:

Parent: "So you're saying the problem is you don't want Dylan to play with you because he is bossy and eventually ruins the game. But you don't want to tell him not to join you."

James: "Yeah."

Parent: "Hmm… to help me understand more, I want to ask, how does this problem make you feel?"

James: "I don't know, it's just frustrating when Dylan joins in and plays with us, it always ends bad."

Parent: "Okay so why don't you want to tell him not to join?"

James: "Ummm, I have seen other kids do that and he becomes mean and bullies them. I'm afraid he will do that to me too."

Parent: "So you're feeling frustrated having to play with Dylan, and afraid Dylan will be mean and bully you."

James: "Yeah I think that's how I feel about it."

*Example scenarios are not based on any actual people.


By helping James be aware of his feelings, we reveal an important detail:

James' fear of being bullied by Dylan prevents him from simply telling Dylan not to play with him. This detail reveals the problem is both frustrating and fear provoking for him. Therefore, when considering solutions, it may need to address what is frustrating (Dylan joining James' play) and what is fear provoking (Dylan's potential to bully James).

Guidelines: On when applying this question with your child, it's not always easy for them to share how they feel.

  • Assume a curious non-directive stance. Be curious and ask a lot of questions.

  • Start your sentences with "I wonder…" , "what it sounds like to me…" "what I'm hearing is.."

  • Be non-judgmental and acknowledge what they say. Refrain from criticism or judgement.

  • You can help them identify feeling words but don't tell them how they should feel.

Question 2: "What do you want to achieve so it is no longer a problem?"

The second question to ask your child during their problem solving process is "what do you want to achieve so it is no longer a problem?" or in other ways, "what is my goal in solving this problem?" What I like about this question is when a child identifies the goal, they can be more intentional about solving the problem. Which can lead to more focu