Problem Solving for Young Children

Problem solving is the foundation of a young child’s learning. It must be valued, promoted, provided for and sustained in the early childhood environment. Opportunities for problem solving occur daily in a child’s life. By observing children closely, teachers can use the child’s social, cognitive, movement and emotional experiences to facilitate problem solving and promote strategies that will be useful in the lifelong process of learning. Constructing knowledge by making mistakes is part of the natural process of problem solving.


Even when adults provide a warm and supportive environment, there will always be times when children have difficulties in their interactions with others. Three limit-setting strategies that adults can use to respond to and prevent harmful behaviors and to reduce children’s distress at these times are:

  • View unacceptable behaviors as mistaken rather than bad.
  • Stop harmful actions as they occur

State limits in positive terms

Supporting Problem Solving

When children are upset over a problem or conflict, adults also can assist by helping them understand what the problem is and inviting them to participate in finding a solution. The following six strategies are part of supporting problem solving.

Problem Solving Steps

  • Approach calmly
    Place yourself at the child’s level
    Use a calm voice and a gentle touch
  • Acknowledge children’s feelings
    Name and describe the children’s feelings

Example: I see tears coming out of your eyes you are feeling sad.  You are clenching your fists and stomping your feet, you must be angry. You are screaming, how does that make you feel?

  • Gather information
    With infants and young toddlers, observe children’s actions and describe the problem.
    With toddlers ask what questions.
    With 3-5 year old children ask them to tell you what happened. Listen to both sides and refrain from telling them what you believe happened. Example: Tell me what happened.  If the child does not want to talk about it revisit the problem when the child is calm, “I see you don’t want to talk about it right now, let me know when you are ready.” Stay nearby.
  • Restate the problem
    Repeat again what you have observed or heard
  • Ask for children’s ideas for solutions and choose one together
    With infants and younger toddlers, describe choices or the solution that
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