I’d like to give you some strategies to help young people with more independent problem-solving.
Since Covid has happened, many young people have had anxieties and concerns about being back at school. There’s still a lot of social anxiety coming up because of being cocooned for 12 months. There are also other anxieties about Covid in the future and the risks that are still associated with it. However, it is not necessarily the right thing to step in and start problem-solving for your child or for the young person that you’re working with.
When we do that, we hold them back from exercising the great, creative minds that they have – that are good at problem-solving. Problem-solving for them, inadvertently makes them believe that they can’t come up with their own solutions. That’s never your intention, I know that. But that’s the message that they, on an unconscious level, receive.
In future when there’s another challenging situation, they’ll be much more inclined to need to reach out and ask for advice and support around how to deal with it, rather than coming up with their own solutions.
I’m talking about a small shift, but it’s a significant and important one. Instead of coming up with answers, advice, and solutions for them when they express that they’re experiencing a problem, turn their questions of reassurance back into a question that you then pose to them. Then they must start generating their own ideas and coming up with their own solutions. By doing that, you’re not going to be taking away any power and responsibility from them. Instead, we’re showing them that we trust them to come up with their own good ideas and that we trust them to be resourceful, competent human beings.
This can feel like a bit of an oxymoron, to think “I am helping them by not helping them.” But that’s how it works. Sometimes, this happens with adults, too – this isn’t an issue that’s exclusive to children and young people. Think about your own lives and the people that you know. We all know someone that we have a habit of swooping in and saving whenever they have a problem! They typically appear to be the person that has quite a lot of problems. It might be because they’ve never learned the skills to be able to independently fix things for themselves.
They’re used to people swooping in and saving them, so they’ve grown into adults now who have this kind of expectation that that’s what should happen, and when difficulties arise, they get stuck and overwhelmed by what’s going on around them.
We want our children and young people growing into adults who are resourceful and able to depend upon themselves.
In the same way, I had a client once who was someone that would find life difficult everyday annoyances would be a big obstacle to her progressing and doing everyday things in life. I’ve personally always felt like I needed to crack on and overcome things and I remember her saying that if you want to get something done, ask a busy person! This applies in the sense of how productive we might be being, but I think that same rule also applies if you want a problem solved – speak to someone who is in a problem-solving mindset as they already believe in themselves and their ability to be able to fix things.
If you go to someone who’s good at fixing things, they’ll find it easy to fix things for you. But what we want to have is young people who know how to fix their own problems so that they become fully capable and independent.
One of the best things that we can do is to turn the questions that they have back into a question for them so that they then have to problem-solve the issue that they’ve brought up.
In the same way, don’t jump in with a solution if they are just voicing a problem that they have and not asking you for advice. Sometimes people just want to offload and that’s the same for young people, too. Sometimes they want to say, “this thing happened today, and I wasn’t happy about it.” But they’re not asking you to solve the problem, they’re just offloading.
You could ask them “Do you want to think up some ways to be able to get through that or to resolve that issue?” But don’t assume that that’s what they’re asking you for. If you do, it creates this habit of them dumping stuff on you because they know that you’re going to swoop in and save the day.
Our job is to make them good at problem-solving for themselves, not to solve the problems for them. We can also start to become way more proactive at creating problems for them. This may sound mean but what I’m talking about here is giving them some roles and responsibilities.
Challenges that are posed to us are like problems that we need to go and solve. We’ve got to be proactive at times by putting problems in their way so that they get used to resolving different issues for themselves.
In fact, we want our young people to be excited about doing that, so that when some challenging stuff happens, they think “Oh, yes I like a challenge!” They then can enjoy that feeling of being independent. You get a good feeling and a good buzz out of figuring stuff out for yourself.
You’ll remember from times in your own past, where you have done well and have a sense of pride from it. Maybe you got to see other people praising you and being proud of you too.
By giving them opportunities to solve problems, to come up against challenges and figure them out, we’re offering them this really wonderful experience of feeling good about themselves and having pride in themselves and helping them to become more resilient.
One of the things I end up talking about quite a lot when I’m running workshops, especially with adults and parents is around resilience and we have a lot of requests from schools in particular, who say we want our young people to learn resilience.
My belief around this is that resilience isn’t something that you can teach. Resilience is something that comes from the opportunities that we expose young people to. Think about it this way, if you have baby-soft hands, you’re not going to grow thick skin on your hands, unless you do some manual labour that toughens your skin up. Then you will start to develop a thicker skin. But the thicker skin comes from the gritty work that you end up doing from rubbing up against the rough stuff.
Resilience is the same. Resilience is developed because we rub up against hard times. It gives us thicker skin on an emotional level. If we are only ever giving our children experiences that are cushioned, soft and gentle, we can’t expect them to develop any resilience because they’re not rubbing up against any scratchy bark in life, that’s going to give them that thicker skin that we want them to have.
If you want your young person to be a resilient young person, you’ve got to get comfortable with the idea of seeing them struggle sometimes, seeing them go through discomfort and deliberately putting some of those uncomfortable situations in front of them. By enforcing that problem-solving attitude in them they’ll begin to think in that more independent problem-solving way.
By Gemma Bailey
The original version of this article was written by Gemma Bailey, director of www.NLP4Kids.org.