Although your natural instinct may be to step in and rescue your child, rushing in to solve the problem for them doesn’t actually teach them anything, so it’s important to choose your interventions wisely.
Yes, as a parent, it’s hard to watch your children struggle, but continually solving our children’s problems for them robs them of the chance to learn the mechanics of problem resolution on their own, a valuable skill that they’ll need throughout their life.
So how can you help your children be responsible for solving their own problems, while still providing the support they need?
Give them a chance to work out their own issues while you serve as a mediator.
For instance, a dispute over a toy takes place between siblings. You can start by offering suggestions like, “maybe you can take turns” or “perhaps you should set a timer.”
Use these opportunities to foster problem-solving skills that encourage fairness, such as suggesting one child split a cookie while the other child chooses which half.
Just like walking and talking, kids need to practice problem solving.
Also, take advantage of teachable times when a child makes a mistake. Use this time to probe ways a situation could have been handled differently to get more positive results. For instance, ask, “If you had taken turns, what do you think would have happened?”
When to Step In
Don’t ignore these situations and always address them quickly. Whether a child is violently acting out, screaming or bullying, take an active role in the safety of your child and others. Whichever side of the argument a child is on, he needs to know that this is unacceptable behavior and won’t be tolerated in the future.
Problem solving is a skill that takes time to develop, and a child will fail many times before successfully navigating through common childhood situations.
Even when it seems children have reached a peaceful solution, you should still remain somewhat engaged and observant of the situation. Part of the learning curve may involve the quick escalation of what appeared to be only a mild conflict.
When Not to Step In
All children seek attention from their parents. But sometimes this innate desire manifests itself in negative behavior. If your child’s behavior isn’t harmful, such as whining, tantrums or even bad habits, ignore the behavior.
While it’s often hard to do nothing, especially since you just want it to end, giving a child the attention that she’s seeking simply reinforces the behavior you want to eliminate.
Conversely, when you offer extra attention to your child when he’s behaving well, you’ll see more of this behavior. This method is known as positive reinforcement.
Reinforcement can be in the form of a hug or simple word of encouragement to let them know that mom and dad are proud of them for sharing, sitting quietly or using words instead of aggression to express emotion.
Other ways to reinforce positive behavior is to reward your children when rules are followed. For example, when they pick up their toys, let them have extra story time with you or play on the swing set before dinner.
When your child is exhibiting both positive and negative behaviors, such as whining or sulking while doing chores, focus on the positive action (doing the chore), instead of the undesirable behavior that accompanies it (whining or sulking).
If you’re consistent, it’s more likely that the negative behaviors will eventually disappear as the child recognizes that it’s being ignored.