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It can be scary to think about, but the truth is we have no idea what the world will look like when our children grow up. But that doesn’t mean we can’t prepare them.


We can help them develop life skills that will serve them no matter what the future holds. One of the best skills you can work with your child on is problem solving.

Children encounter tons of “little” problems each day—each of them a possible moment for exploration and creativity! Remember that though the problems seem little to us, they can be big deals for kids. A puzzle that can’t be solved often elicits that “I CAN’T DO IT!” frustrated cry that we all know well.

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Here are seven things to try when your little one encounters a problem:

1. Name the problem

As a teacher of young children, I’ve often seen children get so upset that they’re in tears, but they can’t tell you why. Sometimes we need to help a child identify the problem before she can see a solution.

For example, a little girl was working with water in the classroom and had a big spill. She burst into tears and threw her scrub brush across the room. In a situation like this, I might say, “You seem upset about that big spill. That’s a lot of water to clean up. What should we do first?”

Naming the specific problem makes it seem smaller and asking a leading question helps her figure out what to do next.

Try this at home next time you hear the familiar refrain of “I can’t do it!” For example, if your child is struggling with his shoes, try, “You can’t get your shoe on because the Velcro is closed. What could we do to make it easier?”

2. Answer with a question

Sometimes it seems like a child asks a thousand questions in a single day. Curiosity is a beautiful thing, but you don’t always have to give the answer. Try throwing a question back at him sometimes instead.

In the classroom, if a child asks why he has to wear shoes on the playground, I might ask him how his bare feet would feel in the gravel. If he asks why he has to stop playing and eat lunch, I might ask how he would feel that afternoon if he didn’t eat anything.

This strategy can work for bigger questions too. If your child comes home upset and asks how to get her best friend to stop being mad at her, help her brainstorm some ideas herself. Ask leading questions and write her answers down to show their importance.

3. Provide resources before answers

More than ever before, we have the answers to many of children’s questions at our fingertips. Why is the sky blue? No problem, let me Google that for you.

But in answering these questions so easily, we may be forgetting to show children how to find their own answers.

If a child at school asked me what lions eat, I would help him find a book about lions rather than just telling him. If you don’t have the necessary resource at home, you could visit the library, or simply involve your child in the research process on the computer.

Instead of quickly Googling on your phone, sit down together and talk to him about what you’re searching for and how you’re choosing a reliable site to read.

4. Set the right level of challenge

At school, we are constantly introducing children to things that are just out of their reach. We want the work to be challenging, but not impossible.

If I give a counting lesson to a child who is ready for addition, she would be bored, but if I give her a lesson on multiplication, she would likely get frustrated and discouraged.

Watch your child and give her opportunities for challenging tasks at home. That might be a puzzle with a few more pieces than she’s used to or buttoning her own jacket. Be there for support, but let her struggle with it too.

5. Embrace open-ended play

In a Montessori classroom, there is a full array of materials designed to allow a child to explore, hypothesize and test his theories, and figure out how the world works.

The truth is, though, you don’t need any special materials at home. All you need is to encourage open-ended play.

Playing with blocks or playing in the backyard offers all of the problem-solving opportunities your child will need. If he wants to build a tower taller than he is and runs out of blocks, what can he use instead? Let him figure it out. If he’s playing super heroes in the backyard and needs a shield, what can he use? Let him figure it out.

This is problem solving in action and the skills he learns in play will transfer over to academic skills.

6. Focus on effort

As a teacher, I would never say, “You got the right answer in all of your equations!” But I might say, “You concentrated on your math for a long time and finished three equations.” Focusing on the child’s effort, rather than results, encourages him to try challenging things.

Try this at home by offering encouragement after your child struggles. If he tries to build a new Lego set and can’t quite do it, you could say something like, “That’s a really tricky one. You worked really hard on that. Maybe we can try again tomorrow.”

7. Slow down and step back

One comment I’ve heard many times as a teacher is, “I didn’t know he could do that, he never does that at home!” This could be referring to putting on his own shoes, packing up his own lunch, or cleaning up spilled juice.

Children do things independently at school because they’re expected to, but also because we don’t jump in to help right away.

I might get a towel and ask a child if he’d like help with a spill, but I would not swoop in and do the whole thing for him, even if he’s upset—that would be robbing him of the sense of accomplishment he’ll feel when he helps solve the problem.

Next time your child is struggling at home, try starting with the minimum amount of support and increase as necessary. The goal is to walk the line between doing everything for a child and letting him get so frustrated he doesn’t want to try.

Try these tricks at home to help your child build his identity as a problem solver. Confidence and the willingness to try go a long way.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.

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The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.



As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I was blissfully asleep on the couch while my little one was occupied elsewhere with toys, books and my partner. She got bored with what they were doing, escaped from his watch and, sensing my absence, set about looking for me. Finding me on the couch, nose-level, she peeled back my one available eyelid, singing, "Mama? Mama? ...You there? Wake UP!"

Sound familiar? Nothing limits sleep more than parenthood. And nothing is more sought after as a parent than a nap, if not a good night's rest.

But Mother Nature practically guarantees that you are likely to be woken up by a toddler—they're hardwired to find you (and get your attention) when you're "away."

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