Top 10 Ways to Encourage Problem Solving

Children encounter thousands of problems every day, and sometimes don’t even realize it. From interactions with other children to investigating how different toys work. It is a part of childhood to be curious and ask questions. Here are ten ways to encourage problem solving in any environment.

How Do You Feel? Getting in Touch with Emotions


Many times, children become frustrated when they run into difficulties. This can lead to tantrums and behaviors like screaming and crying. It’s okay for children to feel frustrated or upset when something doesn’t go the way they want. Teaching them that their emotions are valid is an important stepping stone to the next step; calming themselves down enough to think through the problem. They need to calm down, and understand what they are feeling before moving on. Deep breaths, drinking water, or taking a break from the activity are all ways that can encourage children to calm themselves and focus on other possible solutions.  

Brainstorming Season: Encouraging Creative Thinking

Creative thinking allows for us to look at a problem in many different ways. Encourage creative thinking in children by asking questions that can have many right answers. An example of this could be when driving in the car, asking questions about where they think all the other cars are going and what they will do there. Creative thinking encourages fluent and flexible thinking. Both allow seeing possibilities and situations in new ways.

Encountering Challenges


Critical and logical thinking, on the other hand, are also very important tools for every child to have! Being able to break down a question, puzzle, or problem and look at all of it is extremely important when it comes to finding ways to solve it. Teaching them to take a big problem, and break it into smaller pieces they become simpler and easier to solve. Challenges, such as those involving building blocks or solving puzzles can encourage critical thinking.


Sometimes, kids say the craziest things. Recently, my three year old cousin asked me why, if penguins were birds, they couldn’t fly? I had to stop for a minute to think of an answer that would satisfy her. Children ask questions all the time, because they are curious about the world around them. They may ask questions that do not make sense in order to try and understand the world around them, and figure out how it works. Listening to their questions and comments assures them that they are being taken seriously.

Create Accepting Environments 


Children do their best when they are encouraged. Creating an open environment where they are allowed to naturally encounter problems and try to solve them on their own can be very simple. Such as, allowing them to choose activities they are interested and free play independently. Playing with their preferred activities can allow for problem solving opportunities to occur naturally.  It encourages them to independently attempt to solve them. By observing them in these activities, following their lead while they play and reaffirming their solutions you create accepting environments where children feel comfortable asking questions and confronting challenges. 

What Would Happen? Thinking Through the Solution


When children do encounter problems, sometimes the solution is not always apparent. Children do challenge adults.  Instead of just telling a child not to do something, have them try and come up with a solution for why they shouldn’t do something. For example, if telling a child they can’t have a cookie before they eat dinner, and they start to resist this, have them come up with ideas to what the consequences could be. If they did eat a cookie before dinner, what could happen? Encouraging them to think through the solutions on their own will lead to them developing skills to create appropriate solutions when confronted with a problem later on in life.

Trying and Reflecting

Sometimes, we don’t always think of the perfect solution on the first try. It is important to recognize that, especially as a child! Mistakes are a natural part of life. Children often encounter problems they can’t solve. When they do, it’s important to reflect on what they could do next time. Everyone makes mistakes, yes. But reflection, talking them through what would be a good idea next time they have a similar problem, gives them another opportunity to try and solve them.

Model and Role-play

One of the easiest ways to encourage problem solving is to practice what they can do with certain problems. Maybe, a child is nervous about their first day of school because they aren’t sure if they are going to make any friends. Role playing can help this situation. Practicing different ways they can approach classmates and ask to play or join them in activities. If the child is younger, encourage them through modeling. If a tower of blocks falls over because it is too high, you can model a different way to build the high tower.  Modeling and role play give children concrete examples to look back on.

Asking Open Ended Questions


Open ended questions are questions that require more than a simple “yes” or “no” answer. They encourage answers that require more thought and effort to respond with. Asking open ended questions such as “what would you do if you won a million dollars?” or “why do you think people like ice cream so much?” encourage children to answer in creative ways. It definitely encourages them to think about topics they may not have considered yet!

Incorporate Problem Solving into Materials

Materials can be anything from books, to blocks, to a jenga puzzle. Everyday activities that they come into contact with can be used to create new challenges and obstacles. Using objects in environments that they are familiar with can encourage them to continue applying solutions in those environments. 




Hey everyone! My name is Gabrielle and I'm a twenty three year old speech pathology assistant who works with kids every day from ages five to eighteen. I strongly believe in encouraging a love of reading in kids of all ages, and the importance of early literacy. I post more about how to pair reading with all sorts of fun activities here: