01_ProblemSolving_DAVIDKNOXsxc.hu.jpgIn school, kids not only get to learn the rigors of arithmetic and phonetics but the realities of social interaction as well. While many of us fondly recall memories of making friends during recess and exchanging notes during classes, we cannot deny the fact that school bullies have been constant fixtures in school social relationships way before the term “frenemies” came into existence.

The question is, where do the Regina Georges of this world come from? What exactly makes a child a bully, or a likely target of bullying? A recent study might just shed light on that issue. According to a groundbreaking study by Dr. Clayton R. Cook of Louisiana State University, kids who have “trouble resolving problems with others and have negative attitudes and beliefs towards others” tend to be bullies, while children who “are aggressive, lack social skills, think negative thoughts, experience difficulties in solving social problems” are inclined to be victimized. Bullies, victims, and bully-victims (a combination of both) share a common denominator – poor problem solving skills. Problem-solving skills are necessary tools even outside the classroom, as these are easily applicable to real-life situations such as adapting to a new environment and to varying temperaments of people around us.

No doubt, problem-solving-skills are as important as number-crunching and reading comprehension. Give your kids a head start with FN’s 5 simple tips to teaching your kids problem-solving skills.

1. Assist your kids in defining the problem

Your child, who usually looks forward to school, suddenly comes home crying. After sulking for a good thirty minutes, she blurts out, “Mommy! I don’t want to go to school anymore!”

The first step to problem-solving is acknowledging what the problem is. And kids, especially when they’re upset, might have a hard time clearly stating what’s bothering them.  That’s why keeping a keen eye on your child’s behavior changes is very important.  While your child might say that he or she would rather be alone, show your support with encouraging words and constant assurance that you’re more than eager to listen. After all, there must be a deeper reason behind the sudden change of heart – may it be a school bully, mounting academic pressure, or friendship problems.  Instill to your child the importance of facing the problem head on by defining it and avoiding denial. Learning the value of facing the music at a young age can be empowering for your children, and is definitely a life lesson that they will carry with themselves all the way to adulthood.

2. Be in tune with what other people are feeling

Your child finally opens up. “My classmate is a bully,” she shares.
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There’s always two sides to every story, and children might only focus on theirs. Remind your child to always reflect on what it’s like to be in the other person’s shoes.  This allows your child to look at the problem objectively (instead of focusing on the harm done to him/her), and to come up with solutions that will satisfy both parties. Sean Covey, author of the book “Seven Habits for Highly Effective Teens ”, advises to “seek first to understand the ideas of others” whenever a problem arises. Tell your child to pause for a minute and imagine how the school bully goes through school everyday loaded with negativity. Could there be a past misunderstanding which has led the bully to pick on your child? Getting the perspective of the other party can lead to a win-win solution that benefits both parties.

3. Stress the importance of exhausting all possible options

“Maybe I can show the bully that I am no doormat by not acting scared of him, or I can try to be a friend instead. Or maybe I can… ”

 Encourage your child to think of possible solutions once he/she has come to terms with the problem. Giving your child a part in decision-making gives a confidence boost, and allows him/her to think independently.  Avoid spoon-feeding solutions just to quickly resolve the problem at hand.  Covey shares that being creative, avoiding criticism and building one good idea upon another, are three things to keep in mind when brainstorming. Brainstorming can also give parents an insight on their child’s personality, and inspires creativity.

4. Test the solution

“Starting tomorrow, I’ll try to make an effort to be friends with the bully.”

 Decision-making involves choosing the best option in a given situation. Give your child free time to weigh each option carefully (this involves going through trade-offs and other consequences for selecting a particular solution), and let your child choose which one is best. It’s important that you don’t nag your child into a particular option, or worse, attack the decision just because you think it’s not good. Giving your child the freedom to choose teaches independence and responsibility, and emphasizes taking great care in making decisions.

5. Evaluate

“Mommy, I have a new friend!”

Have your child assess just how effective the chosen solution is by carrying it out. This will determine whether your child has made the right decision or not. Remember that your child should come up to this conclusion on his/her own.  Dr. Michele Borba, and educator and child expert, advises that the kids involved, not parents, should be the ones who should solve their problems. “Real life practice is the best way for children to learn skills,” Dr. Borba says.

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(Photo courtesy of sxc.hu)

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