Perhaps you've seen my favorite way to teach problem-solving skills. It has four simple steps:
4 Steps to Teach Problem Solving:
Say the Problem
List 4+ Solutions
Choose the best one(s)
There's one little trick in Step #2 that sounds ridiculous and counterintuitive, but it really makes a difference.
What is that trick? Allow the child to come up with nutty and silly solutions that possibly don't even make any sense. Even more so, you should also model it by stating some ridiculous solutions.
Suppose a child does not have a pencil in school today and is feeling stuck. How would we implement the four steps?
1. Say the problem: "I don't have a pencil." 2. List 4+ Solutions: I can borrow one from my friend, I can ask my neighbor who sits right next to me, I can write with my nails, I can use my mother's lip liner pencil, I can ask my teacher for a pencil, I can check on the bottom of my knapsack if a pencil fell in there, I can use crayons, I can use lipstick, I can check the floor to see if my pencil fell off my desk... 3. Choose the best one(s): I can borrow one from my friend, I can ask my neighbor who sits next to me, I can ask my teacher for a pencil, I can check on the bottom of my knapsack if a pencil fell in there, I can check the floor to see if my pencil fell off my desk... 4. Do it: I'm gonna first check the floor and my knapsack... and then I'll ask my neighbor Rachel if I still can't find it.
Why does that work?
When we are free to be silly, our creative juices flow more easily, and we're more likely to come up with creative solutions. On the other hand, when we experience pressure to immediately state the "right" solution, it stifles our creativity and shuts our brain down. Furthermore, being silly lightens up a tense problematic situation, and children are more likely to be cooperative with solutions they come up with especially when we don't come across angry and upset at them. So if we want kids to come up with their own solutions and follow them, let them be silly. Of course, the silly ones won't make it to Step #3 or Step #4 so there's no need to worry.