Problem Solving

Problem solving is the process in which a person attempts to identify solutions to specific problems encountered in everyday life. In this resource we will explore different problem-solving models that can be used independently, or with a client, child or young person.  

The following video from the Anna Freud Centre defines problem-solving, and some simple steps to work toward this.  

Problem solving models  

The BBC have developed a structured problem-solving worksheet to break down a problem into components, then decide on the best course of action based on the best solution. You can access the document on this link. 

The ADAPT model is a practical tool from Neenan (2018) that can help with a problem-solving focus. This model requires the problem holder to discover and contemplate their own solutions and is based on a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approach.  

Attitude – Before an individual attempts to solve the problem, they must have a calm and positive attitude. It is difficult to use this model when the person is distressed, and the distress should be the focus initially (Emotion focused)  

Define the problem, and set realistic goals.  

Alternative solutions  

Predict the likely consequences of each solution  

Try out the solution that is most likely to work 

Source: Neenan, M. (2018). Developing Resilience: A Cognitive-Behavioural Approach. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. 

This model requires a ‘task focus’, which is a situation that you/or your child/young person have the power, and/or ability to change. If the situation (or part of it) cannot be changed, then steps could be taken to work on your/your child and young person’s emotional response. As mentioned in the ‘Attitude’ section of the model, even if a problem can be changed or solved, emotional distress can prevent the ‘problem holder’ from seeing this whilst in the middle of strong emotions. The following emotion focused coping strategies can be useful in this scenario 

Problem solving for Early Years Foundation Stage  

Children learn from everyday experiences of solving problems. For teachers, it is useful to observe when children are having problems and support them to solve their own problems. Anticipate problems before they escalate and help children identify possible solutions.  

Some useful tools for this could be solution cards. An example of this is pictured below, along with this source 

Tips for introducing problem solving in the early years setting 

  • If the child is in a state of distress, support them by identifying calming strategies, before you offer solutions to their problems  
  • Read stories about friendship. Talk about how the characters are feeling, and how the characters handle social situations. Ask questions about the characters solution.  

Example activities  

  • During circle time, teach a simple 4 step problem solving procedure. (1) Initially, identify what the problem is, then in the next step (2) think about the solution. (3) Then, think about what will happen if you do this and how the other child will feel? The last step (4) is to decide which is the solution you will try. It would be helpful to include visuals of each step. Talk about the solutions as a group, have the pictures available to look at while children are solving real problems, and praise children for using solutions. 
  • A suggested add on activity could be included during circle time. Role play the 4 step problem solving with puppets or dolls, and act out a scenario in which one puppet does not share her toys. After that, talk with the children about how the puppets could solve their problem. As children come up with solutions, write them down. Talk with the children about which solutions will work and which are fair. You can use solution cards similar to the example above, or create your own based on the problem.