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Mama Drama: How to Grow Independent Problem Solvers

Mama Drama: How to Grow Independent Problem Solvers

Dear Mama Drama:

(photo credit)

I’m afraid I’ve created a monster (or two) by being an overprotective mom. My kids can’t seem to solve even the smallest problem by themselves. If something doesn’t turn out the way they think it should, they fall apart and for every little thing it’s “Mom, mom, mom!”

How can I help them become more independent?

~Overprotective Mama

Dear Overprotective:

Good for you for realizing that you are the link in this chain of helplessness that you have the control to change. It’s hard to admit when our behavior has led to difficult behavior in our children.

There are many small things you can do to help your children increase their independent problem solving skills. It just takes a shift in thinking, a lot of teaching, and a bucketful of patience. 🙂

First, help your children develop problem solving language:

  • Be a loud thinker (talk out loud about how you are solving everyday problems). Kids often think everything is easy for adults because they don’t hear all the problem solving we are doing in our head.
  • Prompt your child to say what s/he wants and wait, “My turn, please.” “I want the car, please.” “Can I join your game?”
  • Teach problem solving options such as asking politely, sharing, playing together, taking turns, doing something else, and asking for help (make this the last resort unless it’s something dangerous).

Increase problem solving confidence:

  • Ask your child for help in solving everyday problems, such “How many plates will we need at the table?” “I only have one apple, how can we all have some of it?” “We both have a show we want to watch, how can we solve that?”
  • When s/he shares a problem, ask your child what s/he can do to solve it. Make sure you do this with kindness, not sarcasm.
  • Allow your child time to think and find solutions without taking over or solving it for him/her.
  • Allow your child to try out solutions you don’t think will work. Learning from mistakes is a great way to become a better problem solver.
  • Recognize when s/he has solved a problem with specific verbal praise, “You used your thinking brain.” “That was hard, but you kept trying and figured it out.”

Support safety and self-advocacy strategies when peers or others are physically or emotionally hurtful:

  • Teach your child to say “Stop! I don’t like that.” “Stop! Be gentle.” “Please ask first.”
  • Remind him/her to ask a grown up for help if needed.
  • Teach them to tell a trusted grown up right away if someone’s behavior feels uncomfortable to them.

Congratulate your kids as you see them using their problem solving skills.

Congratulate yourself as you notice yourself teaching, waiting, and providing the space and support for your children to grow.

Remember to be gentle with them and with yourself. There will be some bumps in the road, but that’s how you’ll all learn from mistakes and find better solutions the next time.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Thursdays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in the next column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential. Read more of Lisa’s parenting perspective at her Laughing Yoga Mama blog.


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1 Comment

  1. I think this is great advice for ALL parents, regardless of whether or not they are overprotective!

    I recently went on my daughter’s fourth grade campout and one of the moms was such a helicopter mom that she went as a chaperone for the sole purpose of helping her son do every single task. And he needed it because she never let him do anything himself, down to the simple things like dishing up his own food. A definite reminder of teaching our kids independence from an early age.

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