Scott Smith

Scott Smith

Understanding the world around us is the goal we want all our children to achieve. We want them to understand and explain what they see, hear, and read.

It should be really simple. You see it, you talk about it, and you can write about it when you’re older. For some reason, it just doesn’t work that way for everyone. Problem solving is a natural ability humans can accomplish. Yet, many people need a little nurturing to become a master at the skill of understanding (comprehending) and problem solving (vocal, written, or demonstration).

One method for developing problem-solving skills in children is through using questioning.

Questioning activates the part of the brain used for problem solving. It doesn’t matter what age, whether the child is 2 or 22, using questioning strategies aids in fostering everyone’s ability to problem-solve when having to face a situation they need to resolve on their own.

Example: Which do you eat faster with, a fork or spoon? This type of questioning asks the brain to use existing information to respond to a new problem.

Sounds simple, but it’s harder than you think! Living in a fast-moving world, it sometimes feels like we have to get things done quickly. Therefore we often tell or give the child resolutions to issues so we are able to move on. We do the problem solving for the child, therefore they quickly learn that in order to get the information they need, they simply ask. Frustration hits when a child has not had practice, is asked a question and expected to respond orally or written, and is at a loss for what to do. Hurried adults become frustrated and often give a response something like, “Just figure it out!”

Have you provided the opportunities for your child to know how to figure things out or have you assumed they should know? The child is showing they have not developed their problem-solving ability and without prior practice, everyone becomes frustrated. The teaching moment is now.

Use questions to help them draw their own conclusions, right or wrong, and learn from the experience.

Starting with giving the child a simple choice is best. Remember it is okay if they choose something different than what you think is best. Many times they will but this is where learning takes place. So if they have a choice of pop or ice cream and they choose pop, but others have ice cream, they may change their mind after everyone gets their treat. You just have to remind them that it was their choice for the pop, and next time they might be able to choose ice cream.

I can almost guarantee there may be a tantrum but remember, don’t solve it for them. Don’t offer to trade. Now, if they ask you to trade, they are starting to use their own problem-solving, and it becomes your choice whether to trade or not. This method works no matter the child’s age.

Asking questions like, “Do you think that’s the best choice?” or “Which do you think would go faster?” or “What would you do with all that money?” forces them to trigger the thinking process and go into problem-solving.

The struggle comes in guiding them with questions in order to draw their conclusions. The world all of a sudden moves into slow motion, and the child is faced with questions. The number one thing the child is fearing is making the incorrect decision.

Thus, we move into the child’s world of decision making using questions helping them make their decision or draw their own conclusions. When given more and more opportunities to allow them to nurture the skill of problem solving, they will get quicker.

If you have a child you notice is struggling with problem solving, choose a time to work with them. Trying to have a teaching moment when the whole family is waiting might be difficult for everyone. Seek out a time you are able to spend time with them and guide them in developing their problem-solving skills. You might consider starting with one situation each day, allowing them to make their own decision.

Start asking questions, and you’ll see your child’s ability to problem-solve, discuss, and even write about situations make remarkable growth and their ability to answer school questions as well.


Dr. Scott Smith is a 40+-year Umatilla County educator and serves on the Decoding Dyslexia-OR board as their parent/teacher liaison.

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