It was a moment that changed my parenting.
“Whenever we asked my dad what a word meant,” my husband explained, “we got the dictionary and looked it up together.”
Yep, it was as simple as that. My husband, of considerable strategic ability in business and elsewhere, had tipped his dad’s hand: Create children who know how—and where to go—to solve problems. I can’t make it so hard that they won’t come to me. But I want to teach a man to fish, so to speak.
1. Parents of problem-solving kids step back to work alongside their children, not for them.
Now it’s a mantra in our home. Be a problem-solver.
Too often it’s tempting for me to shirk this in the name of time and energy, which feel so skinny around here. But it’s invaluable to me to have kids who can think well, critically, wisely, and creatively.
2. Parents of problem-solving kids ask as much as they tell.
They use questions to gently guide, teaching children how to think on their own. Let them read the recipe, and determine the fractions. Together, think about the best way to rake the yard. Invite them to pose possible solutions to that issue at school. Ask questions—which they can later ask themselves—to help think biblically; wisely.
- “What could we do?”
- “What might go wrong if we did that? How can we change the outcome?”
- “What do you think went wrong?”
- “How do you think that person’s idea could be improved?”
- “What made that successful?”
- “Why do you think that person is doing that?” (This helps to compassionately understand someone, rather than judge them.)
Author Ginger Plowman suggests asking young children, “Was this loving or unloving? Wise or foolish?” Then, “How did you feel when you made this decision? What could you do differently next time?”
Books like Sticky Situations can help our children take the beginning steps of ethical issues explored through the lens of Scripture. Later, we can graduate this kind of thinking: What does Scripture say about this?
My husband, a lay counselor, reminds me that the answers and lessons we discover ourselves are infinitely deeper and longer-lasting than those someone else tells us.
3. They make critical thinking fun.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as playing strategy board games together—mine love Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride. Sometimes it’s playing with logic-building games, puzzles, and toys. Sometimes it’s reading and discussing mystery books or logical thinking books like The Fallacy Detective together. It may be asking good questions about themes in books, movies, or music while we have time to sift them with our kids—rather than preaching or forbidding.
4. They allow their kids chances to learn lessons—even some painful ones.
A high school English teacher brought me to tears more than once. My parents compassionately discussed with me their decision not to withdraw me from the class. By the end of the year, I’d learned far more from her than any other teacher—and I’d picked up a lot more than English.
A couple of years ago, my husband and I chose against removing our son from a brash soccer coach. Instead we chose to debrief with him—and even pray for the coach. We knew he’d encounter difficult people for the rest of his life. We wanted to sharpen his discernment, perseverance, and street sense while we had the chance to walk through it together.
5. They don’t shield their children from natural consequences of their actions.
6. They respond graciously to failure.
Helping our kids to think outside the box also requires that they have the confidence to be different—to try new things, to be creative and even wrong. Continuing to reinforce grace toward mistakes and sin grants courage to think in new ways.
7. They gradually step back to let their kids manage larger responsibilities.
Paul tells Timothy, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). How much practice can we give our kids in managing problems and tasks under our roof? What decisions can they help make? How can they watch us processing our own dilemmas?
- Kids can start with managing an allowance, then a clothing allowance around middle school.
- Let them plan the family night, within a small budget.
- Let them plan a healthy menu, and start with making one dish, and eventually a meal.
- Let them help you teach Sunday school, then assist another adult in children’s church or vacation Bible school, then lead a small group.
- Let them find locations on a map, then decide routes, then give directions.
- Gradually trust them with more information. Involve them in your discussions about issues you’re facing, and bring them along rather than handing down decisions.
Within reason, the more honesty and trust they are shown, the more your kids have the potential to step up.
Janel Breitenstein graduated summa cum laude from John Brown University and began her career with NavPress, where she worked on The Message Bible. After having four children she resumed her professional career (around her momlife) by serving as a writer for FamilyLife. In January of 2012 Janel and her husband, John, packed up their family of six and moved to Uganda to serve with Engineering Ministries International (eMi), an organization that focuses on poverty relief and development, providing structural design and construction management for Christian organizations in the third world. Join us as we all learn first hand, through Janel’s posts, what it’s like to go from suburban America, to answer God’s call in Africa!