Recommended age: 5-12
Requires: Parent or professional to facilitate
Includes: 3 PDF pages (2 worksheets, 1 instructions)
Download here or at the end of the post
Use: As a tool to guide and teach the process of problem solving
Self Awareness: Identify own feelings and emotions, increase self confidence
Self Management: Emotional regulation
Relationship Skills: Conflict resolution
Responsible Decision-making: Problem Solving
Children encounter problems all the time in their daily lives. Like at home - when parents set screen time limits on their electronics, or when siblings play with their toys without permission. And at school - having challenges with school work or difficulty making new friends.
Children are also taught how to solve problems daily at school, but primarily on solving academic problems. Like they learn how to analyze complex challenges and apply solutions, and are able to work through math problems that can stump grown adults.
But for problems that arise from relationships, emotions or behaviors, children are often are provided limited guidance.
Many are able to learn these problem solving skills through experiences and trial and error. And although most learn without extra guidance, there are still many children who lack adequate and appropriate skills.
Part of my work as a psychotherapist is strengthening the foundation of children's problem solving skills so they can build upon them and apply to various areas of their lives.
I created a simple tool for my practice to guide and teach children through the process of problem solving. I am happy to share it for free so that more parents and professionals can use it with their children!
Tool to guide and teach
Since problem solving can be a difficult topic for children to talk about, I designed this specifically to be engaging and fun for them. And of course, practical for parents and professionals to use.
I spent many hours developing this tool, as it is grounded from my experience working directly with children and families and is informed by child development and neuroscience research.
I hope you'll find the tool useful, as I have seen it help open dialogue for children as well as between them and their parents. My only hope is this will provide you and your child a meaningful experience on how to solve problems together.
What problems can this be used for?
The tool is designed to be flexible enough to address most problems that arise from relationships, emotions or behaviors. It can also account for small or complicated problems. For example, addressing accidentally dropping their favorite ice cream on the floor or resolving a fight with their siblings.
Types of problems include:
Problems with peers/friends/classmates
Problems with siblings
Problems with parents/caregivers (rules, discipline)
Problems at school or other settings
Problems created by themselves (mistakes, accidents, emotional or behavioral)
The tool is used in two different ways:
1. For educational purposes - By using example scenarios or past problems to work through how to solve the problem.
2. To help solve real problems your child is currently dealing with.
What are the benefits?
Designed to be engaging, non-judging and encourages your child's input.
Teaches and guides your child through the process of problem solving.
Encourages the use and integration of both parts of the "thinking" and "feeling" brain.
Identify the problem, identify their own emotions, manage their emotions and think of problem solutions.
How to facilitate
Before you start
Introduce the tool as a fun way to learn how to solve problems.
Start with an example scenario problem to familiarize your child with the tool.
Regardless of age, I recommend to write in the answers while your child reflects and talks aloud.
Remember, the tool is a guide on how to facilitate, the magic is when your child can assess and process their problem solving in the safety of supportive facilitation.
Question 1: "What is the problem?"
This first step is to prepare an example scenario problem or have your child identify and describe what the problem is. Additional details can include: how did the problem happen? Who is involved? And why is this a problem?
Question 2: "How big is the problem?"
The second step is for your child to assess how big the problem is to them. They can color in the thermometer according to how "Small", "Medium", or "Huge!" the problem is.
Question 2 is personally one of my favorite steps as it is important for children to practice evaluating what a problem means to them. Their evaluation is usually a reflection of their thoughts and beliefs. For example, forgetting to turn in their homework may be devastating for a child who really cares about their academic performance.
So how they evaluate a problem is highly subjective. A problem may be "huge!" for the child but "small" to the adult facilitator. Therefore it is important to acknowledge their problem and not judge them for their judgement!
Question 3: "How does it make you feel and why?"
The third step is for your child to identify their own feelings related to the problem. Feelings are represented by the emojis and they are free to choose one or more.
It is important for the child to identify how they feel as it will help them understand themselves and the problem better. By connecting how they feel related to the problem, they can gain an insightful perspective of themselves.
For example, "I feel mad and sad when my best friend Janice chooses to play with Suzie instead of me. I'm sad because I have no one else to play with, and mad because I feel rejected. I feel less important than Suzie and it really hurts."
The emojis are not labeled on the tool so they are open to interpretation. In case you would like examples of what each emoji can represent, here are my labels:
Question 4: "What can help you to cool down or feel better? Here are some ideas."
Step four is the often forgotten but crucial step for children to do before brainstorming solutions. This important step is to reduce heightened emotions and to calm the body to make it easier to think rationally.
For example, if a child is fuming with anger, they may have trouble coming up with appropriate solutions to solve the problem. But if their anger is tempered at manageable level, then they are more likely able to think of rational solutions.
This section may require more explanation from the facilitator on how it relates to problem solving. Inform your child when our feelings are heightened, it may be harder to think clearly to solve a problem. Therefore, when we cool down or feel better, it will be easier to use our thinking brain.
Here's a sample explanation:
"Just as you said, this problem made you feel very [feeling]. And sometimes when we feel very [feeling], it may be harder to solve the problem. So here are some things we can do first. And once we cool down or feel better, we can think clearer on how to begin to solve the problem."
The tool includes nine effective ideas that are relatable for children to do. Read through together or have your child read through the nine ideas. Define what the ideas mean if the child asks. Encourage them to choose one or more ideas that will be helpful for them to cool down or feel better.
Have fun with it, demonstrate the ideas or do them together once your child chooses ideas that will work for them.
The 9 Ideas:
1. "Walk away"
Walking away is to create a temporary space from the problem. It is helpful for cooling down and to prevent escalation of the problem.
2. "Do something else"
Engage in something else unrelated to the problem as a temporary distraction. For example, play somewhere else, take a break or listen to music.
3. "Take 10 slow deep breaths"
Slow deep breathing calms the brain and nervous system. This idea is especially helpful if your child is experiencing intense feelings or emotions. It will reduce overwhelming feelings to a more manageable level. This can be paired with another cool down idea as sometimes children need more than just deep breathing.
4. "Drink water"
The act of drinking water activates a physical sensation that can ground the child back to their physical self if they are experiencing intense feelings. It is both calming and brings awareness back to the body.
5. "Pay attention to my body"
Since feelings are both a psychological and physical experience, this idea is for the child to connects the two together. They can identify what they are feeling to sensations in the body.
For example, when feeling angry, it is common for children to experience tension in their hands. Or if they feel worried, they will experience upset stomach or pressure on their chest. They will feel less tense once they are aware of the connection.
6. "Say to myself"
This is for your child to think of something they can say to themselves that is calming or to feel better.
For example, "it is not a big deal", "I am not scared", "it will be okay". This works best for children who tend to think a lot or are in their heads often.
7. "Express my feelings"
Sometimes the best way to regulate feelings is to just let them out. It is helpful to let out a good cry or even saying "I'm upset!"
However, if needed, help your child differentiate between appropriate expression and inappropriate expression of feelings. For example, it is okay to yell aloud and hit pillows but not okay to break their belongings.
8. "Talk to someone"
Having someone to talk to can provide immediate relief. We as adults do this all the time, we usually talk about problems not necessarily to find solutions, but rather as a form of processing our feelings and experiences.
This is essentially a form of expressing feelings but I have it as a separate idea because it is directive and easier to understand for children. This idea will appeal to children who tend to be more verbal and extroverted.
9. "Let it bother me"
Sometimes there are no other strategies for your child to feel better but to let the problem bother them. This is okay.
In fact often the case, the intensity of feelings change over time simply by sitting with or paying attention to the feeling. The duration required can be minutes or hours, but your child should know this idea can be effective to use.
"Draw or write your idea"
Here is a space for your child to come up with their own idea that can help cool down or make them feel better. For example, ask for a hug.
Question 5: "Understand your goal."
The second page is entirely dedicated to coming up with solutions to the problem. Step five starts at the top of the page as it is the guiding light to the solution brainstorming. It is simply to help your child to understand their goal in resolving the problem. In other words, "what do they want to achieve so is it no longer a problem?"
For example, if your child is able to identify the goal of "I just don't want Jamie to be mad at me anymore. Then this goal can guide the solution to achieve this with something like, "I can talk it out with Jamie" or "I can admit my responsibility and apologize to Jamie." The importance of this step is it helps set the intention for the solution to use.
Question 6: "Brainstorm one or more possible solutions to solve problem."
Step six is all about brainstorming solutions to the problem. In addition to step five, the other guidance I included are three main types of solutions: 1. "Find help from someone", 2. "Solve it myself", 3. "Solve it together."
Most solutions fit within these three catergories, and the purpose of them is to be a reference guide of where to begin brainstorming solutions.
1. "Find help from someone"
This type of solution involves seeking help from someone who can help address the problem. They can find help from a grownup (parents, family, teachers, counselor) or from a peer (sibling, friend, classmate). For example, a parent can help mediate conflict between your child and their sibling.
2. "Solve it myself"
This type of solution involves doing something on their own to solve the problem. Some examples are:
Forgive and move on.
Accept and be okay with it.
Give it time so it is no longer a problem.
3. "Solve it together"
This type of solution is solving the problem with the individuals involved with the problem. Some strategies to find a resolution are: take responsibility, apologize, understand other's point of view, and compromise.
Once you go over the three types of solutions with your child, this is the time to brainstorm appropriate solutions to the problem. Encourage your child to brainstorm solutions while keeping in mind of their goal from step five. Support their process, only provide ideas and some directions if needed.
Although it is important to freely allow your child to brainstorm and come up with solutions, your direct facilitation may be required if the solutions are not appropriate. For example, if your child wants you punish his brother by throwing away all his toys, steer the solutions to be more appropriate by asking, "is that fair to your brother?, should I use the same consequence for you if you did what your brother did?, what can be another solution that is a consequence for your brother but fair?"
Question 7: Applying the solution
The last and final step is for your child to choose the solution to use for the problem. If you and your child only brainstormed one solution, that will be the one to use. If there are multiple solutions, here is an opportunity to weigh pros and cons and run scenarios for each solution. A simple technique to run scenarios is to use "if/then" statements, like "if I use [solution] then [outcome]."
Weighing and comparing different solutions can be done through talking as writing may take too long. Keep in mind that this activity with your child should be engaging and helpful, not exhausting and difficult. Once your child chooses a solution, discuss how to apply it!
Problem solving skills are life skills that will only grow and evolve. I hope you will find this to be a useful tool to work with your child. I believe this will be a fun learning experience together! If you have any questions on how to use this, feel free to leave a comment. Or if you want to share your experience with the tool, let me know too!
In case you're wondering if we have more printables, check out our first and most popular printable activity: Discover Your Child's Personal Values.
Play Attune is about providing parents and professionals practical play activities and resources focused on enhancing children's social and emotional wellness. Behind every content we share is the belief that children learn valuable life skills through meaningful relationships and experiences.
Play Attune is created by William, a child and family psychotherapist with extensive experience working with families in various settings. We recently launched in the summer of 2018 and we invite you to join us on learning more and contributing to shape our content!