Practical Activities to Teach Kids Problem-Solving Skills
Picture this: You’ve been having a great day. Debbie didn’t spray her egg salad across the staffroom while yelling toxic, negative comments about the workplace. Velma didn’t steal all the free donuts and you, the reigning goddess that you are, got to that photocopier before anyone else did.
But upon re-entering the classroom, you hear it- the nagging drone of dependence.
If you recognize the shrill crescendo of either of the following, then this article is definitely for you.
“MoooOOOoM! [Person] did [Action]!”
“Misssss! [Person] won’t let me [Action]!”
There is no secret sauce to this expired egg salad-of-a-problem, but I’m here to give you enough practical strategies that at least one is sure to fit your child/ class’ interests.
Everyone Stay Calm
As mentioned in the blog about Handling Tantrums, it’s critical that we regulate our own emotions before intervening. If we oversee problem-solving at a point when we are already overwhelmed, we will project tone or impatience which will translate as “your problems are unimportant” when, in their small world, these problems are always larger than they appear to us. If we consistently dismiss the issues of children in need (e.g., "That's not really a big deal"; "I don't have time for this right now."), they will develop the habit of keeping their feelings to themselves which impacts their ability to build positive relationships & coping mechanisms going forward.
So how can we recollect before we connect?
- Establish a boundary, followed by another opportunity (E.g., "I do not listen to whining but I would love to about this when we are able to calm our voices and minds. Would you like to talk about this further at first recess or second?").
- Establish a physical cue to remind yourself that the child is asking for help for basic conflict in an undesirable way, because their toolkit lacks tools. A soft pinch to your hand; 3 quick breaths in through the nose; a walk; calming music; a picture from your childhood as a visual reminder to meet them where they need (because you remember seeking this too).
Equipping our children with effective communication and active listening skills is the only true way to promote independence as they navigate friendship skills.
Guised as a game, spinners are a wonderful way of presenting problem-solving skills because they are simple, visual and easy to manage independently. Each child involved will take a turn and then proceed to attempt the strategy that is fated to them by a plastic spinning arrow.
Peace paths are one of my favorite tools (and in my opinion, one of the most underrated). Simply print out the steps and have each child face each other as they follow the prompts. It promotes turn-taking, patience & collaboration (as they need to come up with a resolution happy dance move at the end!).
In primary, sentence stems are critical. When we hear, “You’re the worst!”, “I hate you!”, we tend to react as appalled, judgmental yet concerned citizens. Translation though? “I am brimming with emotions and I just don’t know how to express myself otherwise.”.
By modeling (we do a lot of role playing to drive this one home) to our children what appropriate and inappropriate responses look and sound like, we are validating their needs while equipping them with a developmentally appropriate way of unpacking frustration.
"It bugs me when you take my pencil crayons without asking."
"I wish that we could talk about it before you take them."
A Load Off your Plate
You can have it all with this Conflict Resolution Bundle! I put this together so that parents and educators have access to a variety of tools to provide healthy, engaging ways of resolving conflict at home, in primary counseling groups and classrooms.