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Problem solving

The capacity for effective problem solving is critical for resiliency. The capacity to deal effectively with adversity depends on a person having access to a range of flexible strategies for addressing conflict, seeking help, and dealing with unforeseen setbacks.

The problem solving process

Problem solving can be broken down into a four-step process which can be applied to almost any type of problem, from the social to the scientific:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Generate solutions
  3. Evaluate the possible solutions, decide on the best course of action, and put it into action
  4. Evaluate the outcome. If the problem is not solved, repeat from step 2.

Identify the problem

This step may sound obvious, but sometimes identifying the problem can be more difficult than it appears. Once the problem is clearly identified, this often goes more than half-way to solving it. Identifying the problem means clearly working out what one`s goal is, and what is currently preventing one from achieving this outcome.

Generate solutions

The key at this stage of the process is not to be overly critical or evaluative of the solutions generated, but to simply think of as many different ways of solving or addressing the problem as possible. This is like a `brain-storm`. You get more creative solutions if you feel free to table anything.

Evaluate solutions and choose the best one to act on

Having generated a list of possible approaches to dealing with the problem, it is now necessary to evaluate each of the options and decide which is the preferred approach, taking into consideration everything that might be relevant to the decision. One`s knowledge is rarely perfect, so this is a matter of a `best guess` in most cases.


Teaching the problem-solving process to children

Children who are old enough to think abstractly (from around 12) can be taught the problem solving process directly, using real-life examples and `live applications` to illustrate the process. Younger children will learn best by having the process demonstrated repeatedly by adults to help them solve their day-to-day social and other problems.

For example, let us say two five-year-old children are having a conflict in the playground. The teacher can begin the problem-solving process by getting each child to clearly explain the problem (step one). Having found out that the problem centres on who will play Batman and who will play Robin in a game, the teacher can ask the children to think of some solutions to the problem (step 2). If they are unable to come up with any ideas, the teacher can offer some ideas, such as swapping roles at some point in the game, playing a different game where they both can agree on the roles to be played, etc. Once a solution has been agreed on by both children, the solution can be tried (step 3). Later the teacher can ask the children how the solution worked, or, if he or she notices that the children are fighting again, can assist them again by helping them think of some new alternatives.

In demonstrating problem-solving, adults should encourage children to generate their own solutions rather than imposing their own `best solution`, however obvious it may appear to the adult. This allows children to practice thinking creatively about solutions to their problems rather than relying on adults to be there to sort everything out.