Solving problems of living  

Posted April 02, 2016; updated October 23, 2021.

We all live with problems.  To be more correct, we are born with problems of survival and living. 

This article advocates, with examples, that problem solving begin early in life, like pre-school, when children are still at home and continue through elementary school into high school.

From day one we depend on mom and dad to feed us, bath us, change our diapers and inculcate values by which to live.  Our problems of living are mostly social, poor health habits, and making bad uninformed choices.  But as we get older and become more mature, we should have learned to how to take care of ourselves, get along with others, live within our means, have a sense of morality, act with civility, obey the law and fix problems of living.  Unfortunately many today lack many skills of life.

Evidence that most people lack problem solving skills:

    1. high crime rate and incarceration
    2. continuing drug and substance abuse problems
    4. high obesity
    5. political gridlock .... politicians unable to solve problems in Washington
    6. high poverty rate
    7. continuing health problems among all age groups
    8. inability to cope with problems of aging, such as changes in processing speed, memory, reasoning, attention, and physical functioning.  Mienaltowski: Life span problem solving 2011
    9. inability to recognize personal limitations
    10 violence and gun shootings
    11. unable to live within one's financial means

Solving everyday problems requires using the skills, accumulated knowledge, and resources [e.g., time, money, and friends] that we have available to us to solve our problems.  How to do all this needs to be learned early in life and fine tuned throughout the school life of youngsters; so that when they graduate from high school they have the basic skills of problem solving. "The result should be an accumulated experience or pragmatic knowledge that continues to grow throughout the life span given the novel circumstances and ever-expanding culture to which we are exposed year by year." Mienaltowski: Life span problem solving 2011

Problems of life:  Are many and include: lack of respect for others, not recognizing natural protective body sensors, inability to get along with others, inability to make informed choices, lack of simple research skills, fixing causes of health problems, inability to make good food choices, lack essential values that guide our behaviors and many more.

Youngsters gradually learn from their experiences .... that is, they pick up 'how to do it' slowly as they get older; this is referred to as wisdom!  There is a saying how we become wise with age:  "As you climb a mountain, the closer one gets to the top, the clearer the top becomes."

Steps to solve problems:   Although there are many theories, below is an illustrated summary of 8 steps to solving problems that should work for everyone .... from pre-scholars to adults and seniors:

    1. Identify or Define the problem:  state the real cause of the problem if you can
    2. Research: get the facts relevant to confirming and fixing the problem
    3. Options: List the possible solution
    4. Select: best idea or solution to fix the problem
    5. Test: try the solution out by building it and doing it
    6. Evaluate: the first solution; does it fix the problem?
    7. Re-select: try another 'fix' option if needed
    8. Success: final best decision that fixed the problem

The eight steps may be shortened to fewer steps and made simpler for children.  But the 'nuts and bolts' of resolving most problems are there!

Others help raise child:

The best way to make sure that we know how to fix problems is to teach children and youngsters how to do so.   Have parents and teachers show children and youngsters how to do it.  Ofcourse, grand parents can play a big part in reinforcing values to live by and helping children learn how to deal with problems.  Unfortunately, parents often fail to provide skills of living and thus handicap raising their children properly.  When this happens it is the community that provides opportunities [ recreational sports, block parties, church socials ] that can fill in parental gaps.

The African proverb says it best: "It takes a village to raise a child."  Although not all communities provide good environments to support raising children, communities are still a very important nurturing environment.

In 1996, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago about what mattered most in her life and in the lives of others ---- children and their families. Clinton said, “Families are part of a larger community that can help or hurt our best efforts to raise our child.”   Although it is the parents’ responsibility to care for their child, it takes the community to provide the best environment for nurturing the child.  Tomlin: Community raises child

Here are a few examples of how parents and teachers can create opportunities for children to develop essential skills to help children solve problems of living: 

Early childhood at home:

Parents can help at home children learn problem solving by the age-old method:

    1. Do for the child when the child is 1 to 2 years old.

    2. Do with the child after age one

    3. Gradually withdraw and let the child do things and fix problems with parental guidance

Pre-school at home:  Parents can use a problem solving style of communication that guides young children to think for themselves. Shure: Problem solving   Parents need to show and have children "doing by practicing" how to solve simple problems:

    1. trying their shoe laces
    2. brushing teeth
    3. making healthy food choices
    4. cooking foods
    5. helping parents fix a broken toy or home furniture
    6. playing with toys, such as building blocks and playing checkers, that allow creativity
    7. Showing how things work .... dismantling a toy and putting it together
    8. building a bird house 
    9. making Easter eggs 
    10. learning to swim
    11. learning to share things with others
    12. learning to play and socialize
    13. fixing a sick feeling
    14. use Logo blocks to create things
    15. learning self-discipline
    16. respect for others
    17. Aesop's fables

Elementary School level:

    1. building a simple Archimedes' steam engine
    2. use sunlight to purify drinking water
    3. generate electricity from the ground
    3. make capacitor battery from a coke can
    4. write simple html program using notepad
    5. design a plant nutrition experiment
    6. examine living paramecium in water under microscope
    7. practicing values dilemmas
    8. learning to play with others at recess and in minor games
    9. recognize body signals for health and sickness
    10. walking on right side of hallway or sidewalk
    11. waiting in line for your turn
    12. obeying school regulations
    13. respecting and tolerating differences in others

Middle-High Public school:

    1. learning to play with others
    2. help others learn
    3. recognize body 'sick' signals
    4. fixing feeling sick
    5. fixing a bicycle flat tire
    6. walking on right side of hallway or sidewalk
    7. setting realistic goals for life
    8. living within your financial means
    9. solving math problems
    10. doing chemistry, physics and biology lab experiments as well as field research
    11. how things work
    12. use 3-D printer to create things
    13. values dilemma
    14. balancing a budget
    15. building robots
    16. students managing the school under guidance of a principal

What defines success when solving everyday problems? Teachers and older adults approach problem solving differently from children and youngsters.  For example, when collaborating with a friend, older adults are more likely than young adults to agree that interpersonally destructive strategies are not the best way to resolve conflict.  Mienaltowski: Life span problem solving 2011   Success is based on the youngster or adult being able to get information about potential ways of managing a problem, recognizing different choice options and then making an informed single best choice or solution.  To be able to fix a problem, one needs to do preliminary, relevant research to the problem to identify pros and cons of each fix option.  Selecting the best option will also depend on matching the functional skills of the person or youngster.  This may require recognizing the limitations or short-comings of the individual.

"Recent research suggests that individual differences in cognitive functioning mediate the relationship between poor health status and poor everyday problem-solving performance."  Thornton: Age differences in problem solving 2005   What this means is that as youngsters mature intellectually, they can match this skill with experiences to make informed decisions to solve everyday problems. Enlightened awareness makes one aware that if one cannot do something to resolve the problem oneself, one [you] may have to depend on others for assistance.  The 'we' concept comes into play instead of the 'I' and solving a problem often becomes a cooperative social group solution.  One often lacks the needed resources like money or research skills and learns to seek help from others.  Working with others to solve social-life problems becomes a  teachable skill moment.

Living requires an open mind to learning everyday.  One does not stop learning upon graduating from high school or university.  This new information era of the television, internet and new technology make yesterday's information old; we need to update old information, ideas and ways of living in order to learn to keep up with ever changing times.  Living in the new ever changing world demands that we keep learning every day.   Galinsky: Child essential skills 2010


Britz, Joan, "Problem Solving in Early Childhood Classrooms. ERIC Digest," ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL. 1993.   Britz: Classroom problem solving 1993

Corriere Jessica & Robert Richards, "6th Grade Math - How to Solve 6th Grade Math Problems With Step-By-Step Directions,"  Article Corriere: Solving grade6 is no longer active.

Developing Critical Thinking Skills in Children  article Developing Critical Thinking Skills in Children is no longer active.

Galinsky Ellen, "Mind in the Making," Also [ Book: Mind in the Making ], HarArtivle per Collins, 2010. Galinsky: Child essential skills 2010  

Introduction PROBLEM SOLVING, dworldforum.  Problem Solving 5 steps

Mienaltowski Andrew, "Everyday problem solving across the adult life span: solution diversity and efficacy," Ann N Y Acad Sci. October, 2011, 1235: 75–85.   Mienaltowski: Life span problem solving 2011

Shure Myrna, "I Can Problem Solve," Thinking Child.  Shure: Problem solving

Thornton WJL, Dumke HA., "Age differences in everyday problem-solving and decision-making effectiveness: a meta-analytic review," Psychol. Aging. 2005;20:85–99.   Thornton: Age differences in problem solving 2005    

Tomlin Carolyn R., "It Takes a Community to Raise a Child," Early Childhood News.   Tomlin: Community raises child