National Edition

Let go so kids can figure out how to solve problems

Published: Friday, Oct. 4 2013 12:45 p.m. MDT

That's directly related to the anxiety and lack of confidence she deals with on a daily basis. "Ironically, parents trying to help their children can set things up so kids end up more anxious, by not letting them discover their own strengths. And children can pull their parents in. The consequences are sometimes really problematic," she said.

Picture adult kids phoning home for advice on things they should easily figure out for themselves. It happens regularly. Some have trouble even going to college, said Daitch, author of "Anxiety Disorders: The Go-to-Guide" and other books.

Start early

Solving one's own problems is learned — and crucial — behavior. Daitch said it's a good idea to tell kids who come looking for easy answers that "I have every confidence you can deal with that problem." They can be guided into the process of solving things themselves. Ask what they already know. Only then, after they've thought about it, does she offer advice.

She used to tell her son, “ ‘This is what I would do, but I am not you. It may not work for you.' The implication is that we are separate people," Daitch said. Capable people.

If problem-solving strategies are underway before age 10, Daitch said they become wired into the brain and personality. Otherwise, it's not too late to learn it, but it takes longer and may not become a natural aptitude.

Don't rush in and solve every issue right away. "One of the things that is a problem for both anxious kids and anxious adults is the belief something will be catastrophic if they make the wrong decision. Most things will not be catastrophic. … And genuine disasters you usually can't prevent. I would encourage people to say something like 'That sounds like a really good solution. What is the worst thing that will happen if it doesn't go right?’ ”

That reassures children they can be less than perfect and still be OK.

Even the little ones

Developmental psychologist Nancy Buck, president and founder of Peaceful Parenting Inc. in Denver, believes children are naturals when it comes to trying to get their problems solved, but they have to learn the right way to do it. A baby cries and mom responds. Problem solved. But crying every time one wants something is not a helpful strategy as one gets older.

She values teaching children they have choices. There are biological urges children must be taught to handle responsibly and respectfully. There are psychological urges and needs, like safety and security, love and belonging, all experienced from birth to death. The trick is learning to meet needs and behave in healthy ways. Children who don't learn become adults who don't know, either.

"Our job is to get out of the way in trying to solve the problem for the child and engage in helping the child learn how to solve it," she said. "It strikes me frequently that children are usually ready to take bigger steps to independence and solve problems before their parents are ready. There is a tension between wanting them to grow up and don't grow up too soon."

Julia Cook writes children's books with crafty rhymes to help children and parents navigate tricky water, including problem solving. The Fremont, Neb., teacher-turned-counselor said children can't always see an issue from the parent's adult viewpoint. "To teach a child, you first have to enter their view of the world," she said. She has a million copies of her books in print and "mentors" parents with her characters. "With positive parenting strategies, they can help their children become lifelong problem solvers," she said.

Her book "Soda Pop Head" tackles anger control, for example: "There goes Lester, watch him fester." His dad teaches him to control his temper, with specific strategies. One of the best parts about teaching kids to work through things logically, she said, is parents need not have all the answers. Kids often find different solutions and grow new skills.

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere