Setting goals and solving problems

Effective problem solving is one of life’s most useful skills – we use it every day to deal with challenges at school, work, home, and in our relationships. The ability to break issues down into manageable chunks and find a way through is also good for our mental health, helping to reduce our risk of developing anxiety or depression.

Setting goals

A good place to start is by encouraging your young person to set realistic goals. Once they’ve thought of a few things they’d like to achieve, you can work together on the steps they’ll need to take to get there and set some timeframes. Provide encouragement to help your young person stay motivated and stick to their tasks.

You can also help to set an example for your teenager by showing them that getting stuff done – even boring, repetitive or difficult jobs – is just a part of life. For example, by persisting or not procrastinating, despite having a million other things you’d rather be doing.

Solving problems

The best way to demonstrate problem-solving strategies to your young person is by working through real-life challenges together.  

When your teenager is faced with a problem:  

  • Ask them what they need from you – do they just want you to listen or are they after advice?    
  • Give your teenager time to talk through the problem before offering to discuss solutions. Don’t try to solve all their problems for them.  
  • Help them identify the specific problem and why it’s an issue. They can then break down potential challenges into smaller steps that are more manageable. 
  • Once you’ve discussed the issues, explore some options about how they could approach it – you might suggest some solutions and they come up with their own. Then talk with them about the pros and cons of each solution.
  • Encourage them to implement their chosen solution, reminding them that if it’s not successful there are other options to try.
  • Encourage your teenager by reminding them of times in the past when they’ve overcome challenges.
  • Give them plenty of feedback when they deal well with problems. 
  • Recognise and encourage the way they approach the problem, rather than focusing on the outcomes.

Giving it a go

Remember that ‘success’ matters less than having a go at the process and working it through. Sometimes your teenager won’t be able to solve a problem, even with your help.

In these cases, encourage them to not give up and to try another approach. Encourage your teenager to take responsibility for things that go wrong if they’re at fault and help them to learn from their failures.


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