Your sweet little one is off to Kindergarten. You might be wondering how they will handle their days at school without you to help them solve problems. When our oldest went off to Kindy, I remember thinking What will my Baby do if someone is mean to him? followed by What would I do if somehow my child were the one being unkind? It’s totally natural to think (and perhaps worry a bit) about these things. Now is the time to help them learn to solve problems on their own, if you haven’t been doing so to this point. Start by talking. Talk, discuss, and sort out problems at home. We do a lot of talking with our children, everything from sibling squabbles to our expectations and why we have them to interactions with people we know to social issues. No, I don’t mean that you should expect your baby to learn how to negotiate peace treaties at age 5, but working on a few basics will go a long way to help your child navigate socially at school.
When our son turned four, he started to be able to genuinely discuss and use reasoning. We took this as our cue to start discussing problem solving more in-depth. We talked about how problems crop up in life from time to time, that there are big problems and small problems, and how to differentiate between the two. We explained big problems to be ones that involve someone being hurt or in danger; these are problems that require help from an adult. For example, Tommy falls on the playground and is crying and hurt—big problem. On the other hand, small problems are those where no one is hurt or in danger and can be solved by child. Another example: Susie took a block that Jane was using—small problem.
You’ve differentiated big vs small problems… now what? Now you discuss, model, and practice how to solve each kind of problem. Let’s take the example of Tommy falling and getting hurt on the playground; this is a big problem because he is hurt. So, through modeling and discussion and practice, your child will learn that they should immediately get an adult to help when someone is hurt or when someone is in danger. It’s simply a problem that’s too big for a child to solve on their own.
Solving small problems can be a bit more tricky because your child has choices about how to handle the problem. Let’s revisit Susie talking that block from Jane; this involves no danger or injury, so Jane can solve this a few ways: Jane could calmly, respectfully talk to Susie about what she did; something like “Susie, you took the block I was using and I want it back.” Another tack could be for Jane to simply ignore Susie’s behavior and continue playing. Still, Jane could decide that she’d like to go do something else. With our son, we actually brainstormed ways that he could solve small problems and taught him that the choice is his, depending upon how much a particular problem bothers him. Having choices for problem solving was empowering to him! Teachers often do this with their Kindergarten classes, as well, and create a chart that they reference in class throughout the year.
Something to consider about teaching problem solving at home versus at school: how the teacher handles this with their class may look slightly different than how you handle problems within your family. Keep in mind that while you have the children in your family to teach and care for, your child’s teacher has between 20 and 25 students to teach and care for during the school day—the dynamics will look somewhat different. That’s okay! As long as there is a common thread of respect, home problem solving and school problem solving can complement each other.
You’ll be amazed how your child grows through learning about problem solving. Our son blossomed from a shy little boy to a caring, diplomatic problem solver by learning from us and from his teacher and classmates. This is a truly special time in your child’s life; with your support, they, too, will blossom.
Written by: Mum of two, Bibi Morgan.