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Ever wondered how to get the kids off the sofa or iPad and have them help at home? Do they seem to lack any kind of problem solving skills, or seem unable to take the initiative?

Problem solving is one of life’s most important skills for children to learn. Right from a very early age, natural curiosity leads toddlers and young children to venture fearlessly into new situations, not necessarily knowing that they are taking risks, trying new things and problem solving on a daily basis. As children become older, some retain this natural thirst for challenges, which they see as opportunities, rather than obstacles. These children relish devising creative solutions for day-to-day problems. They embrace change, are unafraid to take risks and are able to view situations from different perspectives. Children and teenagers with this approach to life have higher self-esteem, attract friends more easily and are able to make independent decisions and reflect on what they have learned from making mistakes. They know themselves well – they know who they are.

Consequences of not being able to problem solve

For many children however, they seem to lose this confidence. In short, they become afraid of risks because they are scared of getting it wrong, or being laughed, rejected or failing. They retreat into their comfort zone and become willing to be led by others – letting adults or their peers take decision for them, rather than making them for themselves. These are the children who stop putting themselves forward at school, and at home. Sooner or later, it gets to the point that they will only do something when they are told, rather than seeing a problem and taking the initiative.

getting kids to Take the initiative

Taking the initiative is seeing a gap or a problem and then taking steps to change it. It’s like knowing when to stop filling the mug with hot water – if you don’t stop pouring, the water will overflow. Children who have stopped developing an interest in, or a willingness to problem solve, wait to be told what to do. Taking this further, these children can easily find themselves in trouble for NOT taking the initiative or not thinking, or not doing things to help out. It’s incredibly easy to become exasperated with children who simply won’t DO something – they are surrounded by a room full of toys that need tidying, or their room is a complete mess – and they do nothing about it. They don’t know WHAT to do about it. The simple fact is, that they either haven’t identified the need for taking action, or they are afraid to for fear of getting it wrong. They will continue to wait until they are told.


What to do to get children to problem solve?

  1. No wrong answers

As in my previous blog post, a culture of no wrong answers (even if they are) is really important. Children will start to think about ways and ideas to solve problems if their ideas will be accepted without fear of getting it wrong.


  1. What IS the answer?

Giving children the answer to start off with and then supporting them through the process of how to get there, not only takes away any fear of getting the answer wrong, it tells them all the things the answer should be. If they play with toys but do not tidy them away because they simply don’t “see” the problem with leaving them out – show then a tidy room, with things packed away neatly. Go around the room with them and slowly point out the key things that make the room tidy.

For example:

  • The cushions are on the sofa.
  • The toys are in a box.
  • The books are piled up neatly.

These three KEY things (I know there are more – but starting slowly is important!) They could take photos of the tidy room and label it so they always have a picture of what it looks like. This is a great way to get children to use the iPad for something educational as well as fun.

Talk to them about how, from now on, after they have played with their toys, this is what they need to do to tidy up. Now they know the expectation and they know what it should look like – there is no fear involved.

  1. Build up slowly

Once they are able to do this, ask them what else makes a tidy room? Having them identify these things are far more powerful than them being told. If they are not sure, support them by saying, “What about the boxes – what’s in them and how are things stored in the boxes? Where do the boxes go?” etc. Add these to the list and praise them for identifying new ways in which the room can be tidy.


  1. Make up creative questions

The car, walking round the supermarket, waiting in line – all these are great opportunities to talk with your child. Think of the times you are with your child – what times do you have to chat to them. Make it a game to come up with lots of solutions to questions such as:


  • What colours can you think of – what colour is happiness
  • What animals can you think of – what animal would you be?
  • What weather is it today – what weather are you feeling right now?

These are open-ended questions – there is no right and no wrong and they are fun, if you play along too, your child will join in. You go first so they see there are no wrong answers, and that will take away some of the fear. At first, they might just copy your ideas – that’s OK. After a few times though, challenge them by making it a rule that they cannot copy you – maybe they want to go first this time?


  1. Identify normal house-hold routines

Tell them you’re in a rush and you need several things doing. Name them and ask them which one they could do. Let them choose and then praise them for making that decision and for helping. Keep doing this and you’ll find they start asking you if they can help next time you’re in rush. Have something small that they can do (that won’t get in your way if you’re pushed for time.) After a while, they will start to see what they can do – and do it without being asked. Now they are taking initiative.

  1. Keep up the challenge

Once they have mastered simple things, start to apply this to real-life situations. “We’re rushed on a morning – what can you do the night before to save time?” Let them come up with ideas, try them out and then add to them.

  1. Share the ways in which you problem solve daily

Talk to the children about what you do to problem solve:

E.g. At the supermarket:

  • Before leaving home, you check if you have your bags to pack the shopping in.
  • You make sure you have a coin to put in the trolley – or you leave one in the car for this reason.
  • When you’re in the supermarket, you get the heavier things first to go at the bottom of the trolley.
  • You put the chilled and frozen things in last.


Explaining the process and your reasons for doing things opens children to the idea that everything in life needs to be planned and thought through. If clothes aren’t washed – we will have no clothes. Talking about all the daily life decisions and planning that you do shows them there is nothing to be afraid of and how important it is. Involve them in these types of routines – if you need a sort of dress by Friday, what day does it need to go in the wash? You’ll find the more they are exposed to these routines and problem-solving approaches, the more they will start to take the initiative.

Yes – it will take time – these things do, yet going through this process, or any that builds their confidence and interest in problem solving is enabling them to thrive as teens and as adults. The more you can encourage taking the initiative – the more they will do so.

Let me know you get on – what works in your home?