You Can Do It: Teaching Toddlers Problem-Solving Skills

Problem-solving skills are necessary for early childhood development

Problem-solving skills build upon how toddlers sense, think, and understand the world around them, making them vital for early childhood development. By being active participants in exploration, toddlers learn to make connections they can apply to other areas of life through new experiences.

Luckily, curiosity and play-based activities come naturally to toddlers. But you can encourage them to develop problem-solving skills by showing them exercises and activities that will inspire them to think creatively and critically.

Identify the problem

Problem-solving means finding solutions to a problem. And the ability to solve problems requires mental development, which toddlers need to think, communicate, and take action.

In terms of cognitive development, problem-solving skills include the following:

  • Creativity
  • Analytical thinking, breaking down a problem into manageable parts
  • Lateral thinking, solving problems creatively
  • Decision-making
  • Initiative
  • Logical reasoning
  • Persistence
  • Communication
  • Negotiation

Toddlers are like little scientists constantly experimenting with cause and effect, socially and physically. This interest is a marker for the development of problem-solving skills, so keep their natural efforts focused to encourage their problem-solving.

Determine the solution

Although as adults we are inclined to help toddlers, letting them solve problems on their own helps them learn better problem-solving skills. Independence will also encourage them to develop the confidence needed for more advanced problem-solving.

The language you use to address a toddler or answer their questions also presents an opportunity to teach problem-solving. Ask a toddler for their opinion on or interpretation of a problem, and make an effort to guide them toward their own solution. Ask questions that start with what, why, how, when, where, and who, and look to them for answers.

Aside from giving a toddler independence to play and learn, consider the following simple activities to promote their problem-solving:

  • Working with blocks, nesting boxes, or stacking rings
  • Putting together puzzles
  • Playing hide-and-seek with objects
  • Grouping like items together
  • Engaging in imaginative play with household objects
  • Playing games such as Simon Says, Tic-Tac-Toe, or spot the difference between two similar pictures
  • Playing dress-up
  • Drawing in their own book
  • Doing simple chores such as wiping counters or sweeping
  • Stringing macaroni, cereal, or chunky beads
  • Building forts from boxes or sheets
  • Matching animals with their sounds
  • Playing memory games
  • Answering story-time questions

Challenging a toddler to solve problems doesn’t need to be difficult or expensive, but you should do so while they’re still young. Investing time and effort into helping them learn these skills now will give them a foundation to overcome obstacles independently throughout life. The VA Infant & Toddler Specialist Network helps improve the quality of care for infants and toddlers through extensive resources, services, and education for caregivers. Learn more about how we can help you improve the standard of care.

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