Can problem solving be learned?

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by slsh, Feb 16, 2010.

  1. slsh

    slsh member since 1999

    Ruminating here, wondering if I missed the boat, or if the dock never got built.

    Can a difficult child be taught problem solving skills? Has your kid successfully solved problems? Is it an innate ability that is built on, or is it a process that can be learned from the ground up?

    "difficult child" is a rather broad term here, I know. A rigid thinker is going to have a different process (I would think) as opposed to a magical thinker as opposed to the flat out defiant not-going-to-solve-a-problem-ever thinker, but I was just wondering if anyone's ever really focused on this concept and been successful in getting their kid to independently get from point A to point C, hitting point B on the way? What strategies did you use to get your kid to move past the "thinking about it" stage to actually *doing* it? Are there any tried and true tricks?

    Is it a function of age, maturity, cognitive ability, emotional stability, wiring, or just plain old luck?

    There's good problem solving (how to manage time, graduate, clean a room, etc.) and bad problem solving (how to successfully get away with whatever) but they're both solving problems. At this point, I'd take either skill set. ;)
  2. klmno

    klmno Active Member

    In my opinion, yes it's a matter of each of those things...and willingness on their part. Possibly the method used might play into it, too, and as with everything pertaining to difficult child's, what works with one might not work with another. This is a good point to ponder though. I figure if mine has the ability to learn or figure out how to manipulate me, he can learn to problem solve and find a better way.

    And I almmost forgot- in my humble opinion, a LOT of problems with my difficult child have been that others in his life have not supported my efforts. Not that I'm the smartest person in the world or that all ideas tried have to be mine, but if I'm trying to approach things rationally and really try holding my sone accountable while making sure the censequences are appropriate for the action, it's a real thorn in my side when the family and GAL would act like difficult child should not be held accountable at all and others would act like he should be locked up and the key thrown away and never receive any supports. My son has grown up receiveing a lot of mixed messages because people have not presented a unified front to him and I think this has contributed to his approach in life.
  3. dreamer

    dreamer New Member

    I believe they can be learned.and built upon............but the person learning has to be able to stop think and listen and evaluate.
  4. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    Some kids are naturals. Some are not. But anything can be learned, to a certain extent. It depends on how it is taught, what is being taught, how receptive the person is, how much innate talent they have in this area anyway and how motivated they are to achieve this skill.

    It is never too late. With enough motivation and access to the right tuition, it can be done.

  5. everywoman

    everywoman Active Member

    Yes, problem solving techniques can be taught. Getting someone like my difficult child to use them, well, today, I'd say no. Had to laugh at the learning to get away with difficult child would be right next to the definition of dumb criminal.
  6. KTMom91

    KTMom91 Well-Known Member

    I think problem solving skills can be learned, but how well they are learned depends on the willingness of the learnee. I have forced Miss KT to take care of some issues at school, and I was the meanest person alive for doing so. I've also forced her to complete some of her own paperwork, at the dentist's and at Urgent Care, and again, I'm horrible. And with her plan to go away to college next year, I've stayed completely out of that, with the exception of touring the campus with her.
  7. SomewhereOutThere

    SomewhereOutThere Well-Known Member

    My son has learned how to take care of his room, himself, his school work, his belongings, etc. There are a few things he knows, but isn't interested in, such as personal hygiene. So at age 16, I leave that up to him. He knows what he's supposed to do, but isn't motivated. But his room is immaculate, if fact very well organized. He never forgets to bring things to and from school. He is responsible when he checks out games and movies from a rental place and makes sure he takes them back on time. He is a very rigid thinker too, and that actually helped. He doesn't like to get anything wrong and clutter bothers him. It wasn't always that way! Good luck!
  8. JJJ

    JJJ Active Member

    Most people can learn some degree of problem solving, but not all.

    One of my sisters is very intelligent, has a great paying job and a beautiful daughter. But there are still many situations where she stumbles because she can't see that her 'solution' to a problem will cause more problems.
  9. Fran

    Fran Former desparate mom

    Sue, I see it as two issues maybe more.
    In my son's chaotic mind
    1. he has to pinpoint the problem to be solved.
    2. Care to solve the problem
    3. Figure out the steps to fix the problem in a
    sequential order.
    4. Follow through

    difficult child has been asked since he was in grade school. "what should you do about that?" It's a way to cue him to problem solve for himself. The older he gets the better he has gotten in working things out. It is not as automatic as you would think. Sometimes his steps to solve a problem are too complicated for a simple issue.

    He cares about some problems being solved and he has learned to care more about things I think he should care about such as appearance, hygiene, environment, budgeting. He doesn't always turn the difficult child ness off when he has a problem. He is tempted to be oppositional.

    Sequencing is part of problem solving but it just isn't easy for my difficult child.

    Doing over and over doesn't necessarily mean difficult child will follow through. He really does forget since it's not crucial to him but to the world.

    The only thing I can tell you is that repetition, verbal and visual cues are all tools to help my difficult child but it doesn't cure the problem of lack of coordinated effort on his own to problem solve.

    Being oppositional sometimes prevents him from using his tools to help himself.

    Good luck. We are still a work in progress but I see so much more light where I used to see darkness that I am optimistic that he will improve his function. Hopefully you will see it too.
  10. timer lady

    timer lady Queen of Hearts

    Sue, the tweedles have learned to work through issues they are invested in..... how to budget & save for something they want, clean rooms if allowance is needed, real basic stuff.

    ADL's are another situation altogether.

    For us, it's a slow & sometimes painful learning process. Like Fran, kt & wm have had the verbal cues from an early age. wm tends to be more defiant & therefore lags in problem solving skills.

    I think it is a combination of all of the things you mentioned along with a vested interest in the problem that needs to be solved. Finding the right "currency" for wm has helped to some degree.

  11. DammitJanet

    DammitJanet Well-Known Member Staff Member

    My basic answer to you question is yes. However I am going to qualify it in a minute.

    Has anyone seen the commercial for having kids in the right order? I think it is hilarious and so dead on the right mark. However, difficult child's probably cant even take in the message until they are well past the point they do what the message says.

    It goes like this.

    The boy pours milk all over the counter. (A little pop up over the counter says: Have Kids.)

    The boy cuts strawberry's over the milk. (pop up says: grow up)

    The boy gets out cereal. (pop up says: meet a nice girl you want to marry.)

    The boy gets bowl. (pop up says decide to have kids)

    Of course, what is left on the counter is an utter mess he cant eat.

    The ad cuts away and puts all these messages in order

    Grow up
    meet a nice girl
    decide to have kids
    have kids

    its all in the timing.

    I think that so describes our kids. Its all in the timing.

    Cory had and still does have some horrible problem solving skills to a degree. He panics over things when they dont go his way RIGHT THIS SECOND. But he is getting better about it. It used to be he couldnt do it at all. I was supposed to do all his problem solving.

    Cory is learning more and more how to do it now that he is out. Now that I wont rush to his rescue and I place more and more stuff right back on his shoulders. It is hard for me because I find myself wanting to jump in but I stop and say NO, he has to do it because he has to learn. Sometimes I will give him pointers like who he needs to call. After that, he is on his own. If he doesnt get to point C after I tell him...oh well. Like recently he lost his wallet and he needed to know who to call. I told him medicare his social security and medicaid is social services. I wasnt calling them for him. He did it for himself and called me back to tell me how long each would take. One more step forward. Next time I wont even tell him who is who.

    I think thank you can learn these steps. He will learn these steps as he is on his own. You may not be seeing them on a day to day basis but he is problem solving in one form or another because he is getting from one place to another. I guess he is still with girlfriend and staying at her house? That is solving a problem. Not sure exactly what else he is doing but whatever it is, he is doing something in his day that is serving some need of his that is solving his needs. Not your needs or your wants for him but its getting him by. One day hopefully he will want to comply with what you want for him but until then, he will problem solve for how he wants to live.
  12. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member

    Fran, this sounds very similar to what the teachers typed up for my difficult child:
    In my son's chaotic mind
    1. he has to pinpoint the problem to be solved.
    2. Care to solve the problem
    3. Figure out the steps to fix the problem in a
    sequential order.
    4. Follow through

  13. slsh

    slsh member since 1999

    Thanks, guys. Listening to my kid Tues nite, it just struck me again, very forcefully, that after umpteen years of interventions, his problem solving skills are still nil. He cannot prioritize a thing. Has no sense of what are pressing problems versus what are small irritations. As he's been all his life, it's all or nothing. He has no filter. Since he sees all "problems" as being top priority, he's of course incapable of solving any of them because he's completely overwhelmed. At the same time, his grand plans are missing most of the steps from here to there.... he only sees the finish line. Again, nothing new but increasingly difficult to work with.

    Right or wrong, my perspective got dramatically changed at the beginning of this year with the self-inflicted deaths of 2 young men in our circle of friends. My line in the sand shifted. He is still not a law-abiding productive adult, but... I've softened my stance in terms of what assistance we will give and in terms of "do to get".

    No Janet - he and (ex?)girlfriend now have their own apartment, no income, and for some reason *he's* responsible for rent. Don't ask, LOL. It's gone from ridiculous to surreal. I'm dancing on the head of a pin here, trying to ensure he keeps a roof over his head while trying *really* hard not to get involved in the never-ending drama, and at the same time trying to coach him without it sounding like I'm telling him what to do. It's a wee bit like Groundhog Day around here - lather, rinse, repeat.

    Thanks for the list, Fran. That's what I was looking for - something concrete to start with. He's challenged at pretty much every step of the way, and is still looking for the easy way out while insisting he do it his way. Same old go around the hoop rather than thru it mentality. The list is taped to my desk so I can mull it over during the day and figure out how to shape it for his particular frame of reference. ;)
  14. Allan-Matlem

    Allan-Matlem Active Member


    The whole point of the CPS - colaborative problem solving approach is to teach kids the missing skills they lack. Just having conversations , dailog teachers these skills , focus on perspective taking , looking at the concerns of people , identifying problems and coming up with solutions that are realistic and mutually satisfying , taking into the account possible obstacles etc , and a commitment to review the effectivebess of the solution.

    Besides DR Greene's books , the best one in my humble opinion is ' Lost at school ' - great for both parents and teachers , Myrna Shure's parenting books focus on problem solving.

    Another favourite is Edward de Bono

  15. DammitJanet

    DammitJanet Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Sue...that does sound a bit like Cory's situation too.

    He has the place to live and is responsible for paying for it. girlfriend works but her income is HERS. She seems to think she isnt responsible for helping with household expenses. She can use it for her know, hair, nails, clothing, pot, fast food out for her. Typical teen stuff if they were living at home with a parent and going to college except she has chosen to live with Cory and go to college. She gets mad because he cant provide the standard of living a parent would provide. Ummm. He isnt her parent, he is her boyfriend and he is on disability! She needs to step it up and be a partner not a leech!

    Makes me nuts!
  16. DaisyFace

    DaisyFace Love me...Love me not


    I read your post the other day, and I have been thinking a lot about how I would answer it. I guess I would say "Yes" and "No".

    My son has ADHD. For a long time, problem solving was extremely difficult for him. Naturally, it was a problem of organization-how to approach a problem, break it down and take the steps to find a solution. It has been necessary to coach him through the process. I am happy to report that we see lots of progress. His problem-solving skills are hugely improved.

    My daughter (difficult child with who knows what diagnosis) has poor problem-solving skills. Despite teaching and coaching, she just doesn't "get it".

    This morning was a perfect example:

    Each child discovered that they had "lost" something. My son re-traced his steps and eventually found what he was looking for. (Yay!!) My daughter, on the other hand, just stood there accusing me of taking it....arguing and arguing that the only possible explanation was that somehow I must be hiding it. She never found her item.

    (After she left for school, I went and checked her room. The item she was missing was right there in her closet.)

    So I guess that the success rate for teaching problem-solving skills depends a lot on finding a teaching method that works with the child's particular issue.

  17. aeroeng

    aeroeng Mom of Three

    Oh this thread hits some personal peeves'. Ours is not only problem solving but, skills for managing frustration as well. I have a history with dyslexia, both myself and my kids. Reading does not come naturally for us just as problem solving skills don't come naturally for difficult children. Yet for the reading issues there are all kinds of techniques used to teach the skills and nothing is formalized for the problem solving or coping skills.

    Example: For developing reading skills we have structured phonemic based training. The "structured" part means that all the skills needed to learn to read are listed in a table in the back of the instructors' manual. Skills are things like looking at an "a" and be able to identify that it is an "a". Then be able to come up with the appropriate sounds. There are hundreds of tinny skills needed to put it all together to be able to read. The table then identifies which page are the activities the teacher can use to use to teach that skill. Skills are taught with a variety of modalities, and in a structured order. It's a big book, and teaching the skills is a huge effort which can be very difficult and expensive. But it is there. A resource I can use.

    I want the same thing for the skills which the difficult children lack. A big book, based on decades of research, which contains a listing of all the skill needed to cope, manage frustration, get along with society and solve the problems. (OK make it more then on volume if needed). Then each item in the table needs to reference the instructions on how to teach that skill.

    Someday it might exist. I can dream.
  18. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    aerong, I'm stepping outside the thread briefly. I have a suggestion for an exercise which could help one particular kind of dyslexia.

    There can be many reasons for dyslexia, but one possible cause (among others) is poor tracking. What SHOULD happen as we read, is the eye's focus progresses along the line of text in short jerks. When we look at something we must look with no eye movement. During the period when the eye is moving, it literally cannot see. This is why animation works.
    The eye then flicks to the next stationary point and pauses for another split second. Each pause allows information to be viewed which then gets interpreted by the brain. These movements in a line are called saccades. If you wire up electrodes to the tiny muscles at the sides of the eye, you can actually see these movements on a chart recorder. They look like a series of steps.

    If your eyes are not saccading properly, they will instead be flashing here, there and everywhere on a page. Partly this can be due to subtle inattention issues (as in a lot of ADHD) and also in never having been taught properly in the first place. If you look at a page of text and you're a good reader, your eyes should automatically saccade. If you are a good reader but you're looking at a picture, the pattern of eye movement is very different. Often someone with dyslexia looks at a sheet of text but the eye movements more resemble those of looking at a picture.

    So to the exercise - you need to TRAIN the brain, and the eyes, to follow a line of text in saccades from left to right. It's a matter of putting in the programming now, that you've probably missed out on.

    You do it very simply and cheaply - get a small ball about the size of a squash ball, and roll it across the desk from left hand to right. Follow the ball with your eyes. Catch the ball with your right hand and pass it back to the left, UNDER the table. Repeat - roll the ball along the table from left to right following the ball with your eyes, catch with the right hand, pass it back under the table. Try to do it at least five times, three times a day. The more you do it the more you are retraining your brain.

    If you can get them, the best balls for this are the clear plastic ones which have a second coloured ball inside them. The eyeball ones are brilliant - the inner ball is coloured to look like an eyeball and is weighted, so as you roll the ball, only the outer, clear plastic one rolls. The inner eyeball one is weighted so the pupil and iris seem to float across the table. Those balls really work the brain and help you re-program faster.

    I developed this exercise myself for students I was coaching. It's only as expensive as the plastic ball you use. You should be able to pick a ball like this for about a dollar. But until then - a marble will do. Or a squash ball. Bright colours will work faster too. Or contrast. You have to get your brain paying attention.

    And just because you're an adult? It's never too late.

  19. Fran

    Fran Former desparate mom

    aeroeng, there are quite a few resources for teaching step by step.
    If you go to and search for Social Stories by Carol Gray you will see a collection of just what you need.

    In order to teach, though, the student must want to learn. He has to understand why he has to learn the skill and be able to follow steps sequentially. It's a lot of repetition and a lot of years of consequences.
  20. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member

    Sue, that sounds so similar to my son. I am very sorry and know how frustrating it is.
    I often try to get my son involved in solving his own problems, but his solutions are so outlandish that I have a hard time not screaming.
    I need to remember to use words like "prioritize," IOW, "what is most important in terms of getting it done in time," or "what is most important in terms of money," or "what is most important in terms of safety."