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Problem solving is a valuable success skill employers and colleges repeatedly list as one of the top characteristics they are seeking in qualified candidates.

Average parents look to schools to develop strong problem solving skills. Some simply hope their children will develop these skills on their own.

Unfortunately, most kids do not naturally become good problem solvers on their own. Schools are not the answer either. With public schools being forced to focus so much energy on standardized testing and state accountability, it is up to us as parents to help our children develop effective problem solving skills.

Think about your thinking.

Metacognition is a trendy word in the world of learning sciences. This fancy word simply means awareness of our thought process, or to think about our thinking. 

When our children develop a greater awareness of how they think, they begin to learn how to manage their engagement with challenging problems. They begin to see how their strengths and weaknesses affect how their ability to problem solve.

Teach your children how their brains are built for growth.

The science behind learning is clear. Our brains will grow and develop with practice and challenges. The belief you can get better through hard work and struggle is known as a growth mindset.

Children with a growth mindset are better problem solvers because they see the struggle as part of the process. They actually enjoy the struggle because it is letting them know they are working hard at something important.

Help them recognize what they don’t understand.

Being confused can be very frustrating. Especially when trying to solve a difficult problem.  As parents we must understand confusion is not a bad thing. It is an integral part of learning.

When kids are confused, ask them to specifically describe what they are most confused about. Their first answer is most likely going to be a snappy, “All of It!”. If need be, let them cool down and circle back to your question when they are ready. The key is to get them to identify what part of the problem is stumping them.

Helping them drill down to the confusing part will allow them to see where their skills or strategies could improve. Knowing where your weaknesses are is a crucial step in development. Honing in on the specific confusing part will also help kids understand being confused is only part of solving problems and learning.

Don’t just try harder. Try Smarter.

Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Don’t let your kids be this definition.

We absolutely want our children to always try hard. However, a better goal would be for them to always try smart.

Problem solvers who use a strategic mindset don’t just blindly try harder when they struggle. Instead, they make intelligent decisions about what worked and what didn’t. They eliminate what did not work and increase what did. They adapt and refine their strategies and repeat until the problem is solved.

A problem solver with a strategic mindset constantly questions their strategies and looks for more effective and efficient ways to find solutions, especially when they face challenges or failures.

As our children’s ability to use metacognition, develop a growth mindset, understand the source of their frustration, and utilize a strategic mindset improves they will become better problem solvers.

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