- All ages
WHAT: When you see your child struggling with a challenge, it may be tempting to jump in and help him solve it. But while it may be hard to watch him get frustrated, here are some different tools that will help him approach the challenge in a thoughtful way… so what seems difficult can become a learning opportunity. Ask your child to talk to you about what is going on and why what is supposed to work isn’t. This simple act of talking it through with you may be the mental opening he needs to better process through a solution. But, if that isn’t enough, and he is still suck, you can guide the conversation with phrases like “what do you think would happen if you did this?” If, after thinking it through and trying alternatives, things still don’t work out, help him see the experience not as ‘failure’ but as an opportunity to learn something. Have him reflect and understand what went wrong by asking questions like “what do you think happened?” and “what do you think you could do differently” and “how might that change the outcome?“
WHERE: Any time you see your child struggling with something engage them with these questions to help them avoid the feeling of defeat. It can be a puzzle or a homework problem, but it might also be a toy that isn’t working the way it is supposed to be. There may even be a challenge in a relationship with a friend. These are also great questions to ask when you are reading a book together. Most stories have characters that face a dilemma or challenge. Ask your child what she might do if she was in that situation; how would she approach the problem? What might she do differently? And then discuss just how successful (or unsuccessful) the character’s strategy was in the end.
WHO: These conversations can happen at any age. Talking through how to approach to a challenge can help younger children develop their own strategies for working through something difficult. As children get older, and the challenges more difficult, these questions can break down what seems truly daunting into more manageable pieces.
You can even do a version of this with babies before they talk! If you see your infant getting really frustrated by something, don’t just make the struggle go away by figuring it out for her. Instead, think of ways that you can get them to think about what they can do. For example, your infant having a hard time fitting in a puzzle piece or the tower of blocks keeps tumbling down. She isn’t happy and is growing more and more agitated as what she tries just isn’t working. Resist the urge to jump in and fix it, and instead demonstrate how it can be done… and then give her the opportunity to do it herself.
WHY: We naturally want to make our children’s lives as happy and care-free as possible. But challenges are an inevitable part of life. Some are small, like a homework question that just isn’t making sense; and others are more significant, like not understanding why your best friend is mad at you. In either case, we don’t want to solve their problem, but we want to give them the tools with which to work it out on their own.
Encouraging your child to talk through a problem is a great way to get them in the mindset that challenges are opportunities for growth. (Hence, the phrase “growth mindset.”)
When they see a difficult situation in this light, they are not only better able to work their way through it, but research shows that they will also seek out things that push them beyond their comfort zone. Alternatively, they can feel defeated when things get hard, and will only take the easy route so as to avoid doing anything where they might fail. But challenge is where opportunity lies. As John F. Kennedy famously said as he launched one of the most difficult endeavors in human history, getting to the moon, “We choose to go to the Moon…and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
Of course, when you take on something hard, you face the very real possibility of failure. Yes, in that moment, your children will be disappointed at not being successful. But when you can get your children to think about what they could do the next time to improve the outcome, they are mastering the problem-solving skills of critical thinking. And they are also becoming confident and resilient learners.