Simple questions can help guide your child

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, April 23, 2011

QUESTION: How do I help my children become effective problem-solvers?

ANSWER: By the age of four, children can think about their own and others’ feelings, the consequences of their actions and alternative ways to solve problems. The thinking child can appreciate how people feel, decide what to do and evaluate whether an idea is or is not a good one.

Myrna B. Shure, a psychologist at Allegheny University of the Health Sciences in Philadelphia, recommends asking your child these questions when there is a problem with another child:

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“What happened?” “What’s the matter?”

“How does (the other child) feel?”

“How do you feel?”

“Can you think of a different way to solve this problem, so that you both won’t be angry (or so that he won’t hit you, or that you won’t be yelling at each other or that you won’t stop being friends or that you won’t hurt each other or that you won’t hurt each other’s feelings)?

“Is that a good idea or not a good idea?”

(If it’s a good idea) “Go ahead and try that.”

(If it’s not a good idea) “Oh, you’ll have to think of something different.”

When children learn that there’s more than one way to solve a problem, they won’t feel as if they have to use the first idea they think of and they’ll be less likely to give up so soon. Going through a brainstorming process to generate alternative solutions is valuable, but it’s often hard for kids to come up with more than one idea because they tend to think there’s only one answer to a problem. To encourage more solutions and flexibility of thought, you might say, after a child expresses his/her initial idea: “That’s one way. Remember, though, it is important to think of lots of different ways.”

If you would like to talk with a parenting specialist about the challenges in raising children, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/Línea de Apoyo at 877-434-9528. For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599. Check out