How often do you worry about your kids’ struggles and give lots of advice about how to handle their problems?
Have you found yourself wishing your child was more independent and capable of solving problems?
Do you know which problems belong to you to solve and which ones belong to your children?

Parents often have strong emotions about problems that belong to their children. Maybe your daughter is being ignored by her former best friend. Maybe your son is having difficulty with his math teacher. Maybe your teen hates doing homework. The fact that these struggles cause you to feel emotions should not be misunderstood as a reason to solve your child’s problems.

When you try to solve problems that belong to your child, you run the risk of a couple of problematic outcomes:

  • You may end up in a conflict with your child, who rejects your suggestions. Now, you are arguing about a matter that really isn’t yours to fix.
  • OR, your child may become dependent on you to solve his problems. While that may feel good when children are young, you may not have a confident, competent, courageous young adult, ready to take those first steps toward independence when it is time for “the launch.”

When parents solve problems that belong to children, they may be giving the underlying message that, “I am smarter than you.” In fact, even though you may have more life experience, you are not necessarily smarter than your children. And more importantly, you are cutting them off from important learning experiences. Children raised with opportunities for problem solving and critical thinking tend to be more creative than adults in thinking up solutions, and gain confidence and courage. And teens raised to be problem solvers are safer and more competent during adolescence.

Here are some ways to help kids become problem solvers:

  1. Find ways to determine who “owns” a problem – that is, who is responsible for solving the problem.
  2. Listen carefully to your child’s understanding of problems and ideas about how to solve them. Listening makes your child feel valued and builds confidence.
  3. Invite your child to consider what might be the outcomes of each of his ideas for solutions. Try not to say what you think the outcomes will be. Rather, encourage your child to think for himself.

It can be challenging when you have emotions about your child’s struggles. But, it is a gift to support your children in becoming problem solvers and finding their own way in the world, while still in the safety of home.

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