Too often, when the kids turn to us for help, we jump in and fix it. We explain the math problem, find the missing LEGO Bricks pieces, tie the shoe and fetch the forgotten jacket. In our haste to move on to the next thing, we sometimes overlook something. We know they can find the answer, but sometimes, it’s faster and easier to do it ourselves.

Encouraging kids to solve certain everyday problems has many benefits, including developing their critical thinking skills and building confidence to use their own resources. Instead of jumping in, ready to rescue, start a gentle hand-off by involving the kids in solving the problem.

Here are five types of approaches you can take to get their wheels turning.

  1. Solution seeking: When they come to you with questions and problems, instead of leaping in, it may be time to nudge them forward with an open-ended question: “Let’s hear your ideas on how we can fix this.”.
  2. Future tense: In the great game of chess, the best players always think a few moves ahead. In the same vein, encourage kids to predict possible outcomes from the action. Whether the situation is about their relationships, a kitchen science experiment, mixing colors for a painting or building a structure, ask a question that has them looking ahead: “What do you think will happen next? How do you know that?”
  3. Problem solving: Divergent thinking is the ability to see multiple possibilities. That’s a key trait in careers that require strong creative problem-solving skills, from chef to physician to engineer to art teacher. Along those lines, ask questions to search for alternative solutions: “Can you think of at least one more idea to solve this problem? How else can we make it work?”
  4. Discuss and explain: Asking kids questions and getting them to articulate and explain what happened or share their point of view develops their verbal skills and reinforces what they learned. The next time they come home from a fun Bricks 4 Kidz workshop, get them talking about the cool project they built: “What did you make? How did you get that to work? What did you notice happening?”
  5. Identify and analyze: As kids mature, they increase their skills and abilities. As we all know, things sometimes go wrong and they make a mistake. Instead of pointing out what they should have done (in spite of your excellent guidance, may we add), ask questions.

Some teachers use this simple method to get kids to identify what went wrong and how they can prevent a mishap at the next go-round: They ask “why” five times.

So just ask why, and follow each answer with another “why.” After a few of these, they’ll land on the solution. The hope is they’ll gain a deeper sense of ownership in being a part of the solution.