Problem Solving

Thinking Skills

Problem solving is how your child comes up with solutions to complex challenges.


Sixteen-month-old Lance is in his bedroom playing with his toy f ire truck. He knows that his toy fire truck makes a sound, but he can’t remember what he has to do to hear it. Lance starts to shake the toy fire truck, turn it upside down, push the lights on the front, and even pull out the ladder trying hard to make the f ire truck make a noise. Finally, he presses the red circle (siren) button at the top of the truck and the fire truck makes a noise!


Lance is able to use trial and error to find a solution to the challenge he has, which is how to make the toy fire truck make a noise. The solution is pressing the red circle button on top of the fire truck.

Your child may stand on a chair (solution) to reach a toy on the shelf (challenge). Toddlers solve problems by various means: manipulating objects, imitating solutions found by others, using objects as tools, and participating in trial and error.

As a parent, you play a key role in how your child develops problem-solving skills and how many times he will attempt to figure out a solution to a challenge. For example, your toddler has been attempting to open the closet door for a while. As he watches and studies you opening the closet door numerous times, he’s finally able to open it himself. This is learning by imitating and observing problem solving in action.

Manipulating objects occurs when parents allow their toddlers to explore the object first. For example, Lance’s mother could have pushed the but ton on the toy fire truck for him, but instead she allows time for her child to explore the toy and f ind the but ton so he can push it himself.

It is best to give your toddler the opportunity to solve the problem first before you intervene. If Lance continues to have a hard time, his mother can support him by turning the toy in a position that will allow him to notice and push the but ton himself. This will build your child’s self-confidence and self-esteem as well as support the development of problem-solving skills.

Problem solving requires your child to use reasoning, decision-making, critical thinking, and creative thinking skills.

Your child will have so many problems to solve! As a parent, you can help by providing opportunities for open-ended exploration and by offering help. Give your child materials from around the house and let him make choices about how to use those materials. There are endless ways your child can explore plastic bowls, boxes, and scarves.

Sit back as you watch your child explore spatial relationships through problem solving by providing him with a spaghetti strainer and plastic straws as he tries to stick the straws through the holes of the strainer. Remember to keep your problem-solving activities simple. More complex problem solving will happen when your child grows older.

It is important to always encourage and praise your child when he engages in problem-solving tasks and activities. This will leave your child feeling conf ident in his accomplishments and excited about solving more challenges.