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How to help children develop problem-solving skills

Nina Chen, Ph.D., CFLE, human development specialist, Jackson County, University of Missouri Extension


For children to learn how to resolve conflict, they must first learn problem-solving skills. Children should be encouraged to think of solutions and alternatives to problems, which will help them be more confident when they’re faced with difficult situations. Children who learn problem-solving skills will develop and use them throughout their life.


Here are some general steps to teach children problem-solving skills:

  • Get the facts and identify feelings. When children are fighting, angry, frustrated or upset, identify the problem. When asking children to tell you their problems, you need to be calm and nonjudgmental. Children see things from their own perspectives and may be completely unaware of how their actions affect other children. Helping children identify their own feelings and recognize the feelings of others is an important step.
  • Help children set the conflict-resolution goal and define what they want to happen in the situation. When children have clear goals, it’s easier to think of solutions.
  • Generate alternatives. Help children stay focused on their problems and ask what they can do to reach their goals. When children offer alternatives, repeat their ideas and ask them what else could be done. Don’t criticize their ideas. Instead, prompt more solutions by asking the children questions. If they cannot think of alternatives, ask them to imagine how someone else might handle the situation.
  • After children have generated their ideas and alternatives, help them evaluate the consequences. For instance, “What might happen if . . .? Would it be safe? Would it be fair? How would everyone feel?” Adults should encourage children to evaluate their ideas and see why they are acceptable or unacceptable.
  • Ask for a decision. After children evaluate their ideas, adults should restate the problem, summarize their ideas and let children decide which actions they would like to try. If children choose an idea that you think will not work, make sure they know what their alternatives are and what they should try next.



Crary, E. 1984. Kids Can Cooperate. WA: Parenting Press.
Fittro, J. 1998. Teaching Children to Resolve Conflict. Ohio State University Extension



Last Updated 05/05/2009


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