What's the problem, really?


As educators, there a many times throughout the day where we may be called upon to "solve a problem". Children come to us with their problems: 

  • Sienna won't play with me
  • Max took the yellow train and I need it for my town
  • I can't open my lunchbox

When children come to us with their problems, they are typically quite clear about what that problem is. There is something that has happened, or is happening, that is getting in the way of them achieving what they want/need to achieve. And, they need that something dealt with. 

Sounds simple enough right? Well, yes and no. While we might hear the problem, do we really understand the problem, and are we best placed to solve that problem? 

It becomes even more interesting when children aren't coming to us with these problems, but we are observing them and stepping in to try and solve them. 

  • We see Brennan ask Sienna if she will build a sand castle in the sand pit. Sienna says no and begins to walk away. Brennan begins to cry. 
  • Max and Evan are fighting over the yellow train in the block area - they are both yelling "I had it first". 
  • Arjun is sitting at the lunch table and pulling hard on the clips on his lunchbox. 

From what we see, we could take a guess at what each problem is, and step in with solutions: 

  • "Brennan, I can see you are upset that Sienna doesn't want to build a sandcastle, but I could build one with you." 
  • "If you are going to fight over the yellow train, I will just take that one away. There are plenty of other trains." 
  • "Here's let me open that for you Arjun" 

And perhaps, that will solve the problem. Or perhaps it won't. Because we haven't taken the time to know what the problem really is, we have simply stepped in with a solution. 

The thing is, children often have solutions. They know what they need and want, they may just need a little time to get there, or someone to work through it with. 

So, before we try to solve children's problems for them, let's take a breath and see if we can listen, notice, and understand a little more. Let's give children time and space to work through their own possible solutions. Let's not rush in with a solution, but instead recognise that true problem solving often requires a slow, steady and thoughtful approach. 


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