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Positive problem solving is an essential factor for building resilience in young children.

Engaging in creative problem solving driven by wonder, critical thinking skills, and the perseverance to keep trying when faced with challenges and mistakes builds confidence and self-esteem as a learner, problem solver and decision maker.  

However, young children often lack curiosity, creativity and perseverance in the face of challenges – an issue that impacts their ability to navigate obstacles at school and in life.

At Sesame Workshop, through our conversations with educators, we learned that children quickly grow frustrated when their initial solution to a problem fails, rather than embracing the process of trial and error as they think of creative solutions for solving problems. They often turn to the adults to fix or solve their problems instead of being autonomous and confident that they can figure it out on their own.

To address this educational need, we decided to model positive approaches to learning through playful problem-solving stories on Sesame Street.

Through engaging and child relevant stories, our characters model for children how to reshape their thinking around the challenges they experience by:

  • Trying out different solutions
  • Reflecting on what is learned with each failed attempt
  • Understanding that mistakes are okay and it’s how we learn
  • Encouraging one another not to give up
  • Taking deep calming belly breaths when experiencing frustration of failed attempts

The friends inspire creativity in coming up with new ideas and implementing them with a more resilient growth mindset – “I can’t do something yet, but with practice and time, I can!”. 

So, when faced with a problem the characters chant: When there’s a problem, what do we say: “I Wonder…? What if…? Let’s Try!” along with corresponding gestures of pointer finger to temple, chin, and in the air, respectively, to aid comprehension of these important thinking processes as they engage in creative playful problem-solving. 

For example, in one episode, Elmo and Rosita want to race their ping pong balls down a ramp, but the only ramp on Sesame Street is already being used. When presented with this problem, they wonder if they can make another ramp, and ask what if they use cardboard?

As their play evolves and the balls travel at different speeds, they experiment with different slopes and materials that affect the speed of the balls. With encouragement and suggestions from their friend Julia, the two friends never give up and keep trying. Together they build two long ramps so they can keep racing – and invite Julia to join and be a ramp racer too!

Just like our Sesame Street muppets, parents and caregivers (the greatest role models for children) can also effectively model positive behaviours when it comes to problem solving.  

Here are some ideas for modelling effective creative problem-solving skills:

Making Mistakes

Children are often afraid to take safe risks, and we as parents need to embrace our own mistakes. We’re passing onto our children that mistakes are bad, which leads them to refrain from trying – to reduce the worry about making a mistake. We need to flip the script on our mistakes and say: “It’s okay to make mistakes (oops) and it’s what we learn from the mistakes (A-ha!).

That is most important. There is so much to learn from making mistakes!”. Parents need to respond positively to mistakes that they and their children make. So, next time you make a mistake say “Oops, I made a mistake, but that’s all right”. “I’ll try this now and see if that will work better”.

Telling children that it’s okay to make mistakes and to express their emotions can help them learn to keep trying in the face of challenges. 

Allow Children to Come Up with Their Own Solutions

If, as a parent, you always swoop in and solve the problem, your child’s natural, innate ability to wonder and be curious and develop those important critical thinking skills, and thinking outside of the box will be thwarted.

Remember: Your role is not to give the answers or be a dispenser of facts, which can stifle learning. Instead, empower your child to be an independent thinker and learner, and come up with their own solutions.

Build a Child’s Autonomy

It’s so important for children to build what we call resiliency skills. And part of resiliency is to have them cope with disappointment and frustration.

It’s okay to say, “I just can’t be with you right now, and I trust you to figure this out.”

Let kids have the space to be creative problem solvers, because when you remove yourself and have them be much more self-sufficient, they’re developing those critical thinking skills, and again, you’re empowering them to be problem solvers.

Practice Persistence

Encourage your child to never give up and to retry different things until they come up with the answer or solution. This flexible approach sparks a child’s imagination, creativity and resilience, and ultimately makes them an effective problem solver.

Four Steps to Simple Problem Solving

An effective approach the next time your child has a problem is to:

  • Ask them about the problem
  • Help them calm down if they get frustrated by taking deep breaths 
  • Brainstorm solutions and try them out
  • Let them know you’re still there if they need more help 

www.sesamestreetincommunities.org/activities/positive-problem-solving

Dr. Rosemarie Truglio, Senior Vice President of Curriculum and Content at Sesame Workshop

Dr Rosemarie Truglio Ph.D. has been a vital presence at Sesame Workshop for more than two decades. She is the Senior Vice President of Curriculum and Content at Sesame Workshop, overseeing content development across media platforms and product distribution and is an authority on child development. Dr Truglio is the author of Ready for School! A Parent’s Guide to Playful Learning for Children Ages 2 to 5. Sesame Workshop, the non-profit educational organisation behind Sesame Street, has further information on positive problem solving.