When life feels overwhelming, or time feels like it’s running out, problem solving can help keep your child’s stress in check before it escalates.
Working out problems together gives your child a sense of control over situations and helps them gain confidence.
For example, if they are worried about an exam that’s coming up in a few weeks, rather than be consumed by the thought of failing or not doing well, help them create a study schedule to keep them motivated and on track.
Five simple steps to helping your child problem solve:
1. Choose the problem: Ask them to describe the situation out loud.
2. Understand the problem: Ask them to share what they’re feeling and thinking about the problem. Be sure to talk through their worries with them. Find out: Are they reasonable? Should they do something to reduce the stress, or find a way to simply let it go? Help them state the problem in a simple sentence: “You’re worried about failing the test tomorrow?”
3. Come up with different solutions: Brainstorm ideas and try to come up with three to five solutions. They don’t need to be realistic solutions at this step, the trick is for them to come up with several options.
4. Compare the solutions: List the pros and cons of each solution. You can help guide discussion about what is the negative and positive about each one?
5. Find the best solution and put it into action: Test it out and give your solution a real-world try.
Reassure your child that situations pass (they always do) and that learning from their mistakes is good in the long run. For example, if they don’t make the team this year, they can take another shot next year. Nothing is forever.
It’s important to make sure your child has a starring role in their own problem solving. When everything is taken care of for them, they won’t learn the critical skills that will serve them a lifetime.
Check out our problem solving worksheet for younger children, or they can use the Stresslr tool online for an interactive problem-solving activity. Encourage youth to check out the stress section on Foundrybc.ca or Anxiety Canada’s article on How to Solve Daily Life Problems.
Breaking problems into bite-sized chunks
Sometimes the more stressed we feel, the more we tend to put things off. Learning how to break down bigger topics or problems into smaller steps is a great strategy.
For example, if your child feels overwhelmed by an essay assignment, break the task into more manageable parts. Tackle one part each day. For example, day 1: do some research; day 2: come up with topic ideas; day 3: create an outline.
This strategy can go a long way to preventing stress from building up.
For younger children, parents need to take the lead on this. Parents can take the lead with older children, but encourage the child to participate so that overtime they can take the lead themselves.
Strengthening time management skills
Stress is often caused by not having enough time to get everything done. For some children and youth, managing time can be especially challenging. Knowing how to organize time around stressful tasks they’re facing can also help your child feel more in control, and help them better handle the pressure.
Some time management strategies include using a planner, helping your child estimate how much time they need, and setting up a routine so they get their homework accomplished before evening play and relaxation. Often children need parents’ help to learn how to use a planner and estimate time, so be prepared to work on this together with them for some time before you expect them to be independent with these skills.
Reminder: Be sure not to over-schedule activities though. A busy, overloaded calendar can actually put more stress on the whole family.