Photos taken in collaboration with Larry Toh

Children face a variety of problems every day, from learning difficulties to problems with friends. Having good problem-solving skills will help them manage their lives better.

A 2010 study published in Behaviour Research and Therapy found that kids who lack problem-solving skills may be at a higher risk of depression and other mental health challenges.

We need to help our children understand that problems are a part of everyday life. In this way, they can approach the daily challenges they encounter as “problems to be solved” instead of disasters they cannot cope with.

With a positive outlook on problem-solving, they are more optimistic and believe that problems can be solved and develop greater confidence in their ability to solve problems.

problem solving play


At birth: Reflexes

Babies are born with built-in problem-solving tools called "reflexes", which they use to root and suck for feeding.

At two months: Awareness

Infants become more alert and develop an eagerness to explore the world around them.

At four months: Exploration

Babies have developed muscle control and hand-eye coordination to bring toys and other objects to their mouth, which leads to greater exploration and experimentation and, in the process, the development of problem-solving abilities.

At eight months: Experimentation

Older babies enjoy playing with toys that produce responses to their actions. These experiences help to lay the groundwork for their understanding of cause-and-effect relationships and problem-solving abilities.

At 12 months: Observation & Imitation

When they turn one, children move into more purposeful problem-solving as they develop their physical and motor abilities, such as pushing aside a toy to reach another. One-year-olds learn to solve problems through observation and imitation by watching how someone else solves problems.

At 16 months: Iteration

When babies become toddlers, they become little scientists who consider “what would happen if..." when they solve problems. During this phase, they experiment and manipulate objects and repeat their actions and observe what happens in their persistent search for a solution.

At 24 months: Recollection & Application

At two years old, children begin to observe, think about problems and recall what they see. At this stage, the child can also remember and imitate others to solve problems. For example, when a two-year-old wants to open a part of a toy, they no longer shake it as they would have when they were younger. Instead, they remember how an adult opened it and do it the same way.

At 36 months: Imagination & Innovation

Three-year-old children use their imagination to solve problems as they arise. They can use items to represent what they need, such as pretending that a box is a telephone. However, young children sometimes only see one possible solution and will keep using it till they learn that there are other ways to solve problems. Hence, an adult offering alternatives may be helpful.


Problem-solving is strategising how to achieve a result when the path to that result is uncertain. It is an important skill for a young child’s learning in educational and everyday contexts.

Parents need to hold back from being too quick to intervene and solve problems for their children. If this happens too often, children can begin to rely on adults to solve their problems for them.

They might view problems as unsolvable challenges or lose confidence in their own abilities to cope with issues that need solutions, avoiding problems rather than putting energy into solving them, or impulsively springing into action without considering alternatives or consequences.

Wisetip twenty nine point one

Parents can help by exposing children to different experiences and environments, as well as allowing them time to explore and learn by trial and error – to make "mistakes" and try again.

Understanding the different stages of problem-solving the child is in and knowing when to provide the right guidance – be it modelling for the child to imitate or giving explicit instructions – will help the child to develop important experiences and build problem-solving abilities.(Gloeckler & Cassell, 2012)

Wisetip twenty nine point one

Wisetip twenty nine point one

Problem-solving promotes the development of new nerve cell connections and neural pathways that are forming in the brains of young children. In the words of former teacher and educational leader Dr Eric Jensen: "The single best way to grow a better brain is through challenging problem-solving."

Providing new things for the child to explore keeps the brain alert and ready to learn new knowledge.5 And parents don't even have to try too hard – very young children independently discover opportunities to problem solve. An infant who accidentally creates noise with a rattle will try to recreate that sound.

If adults refrain from rushing in and rescuing young children who are facing minor everyday problems, our kids will gradually develop confidence in their thinking and experimenting abilities to find solutions to problems.