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Develop a Smart, Happy, Problem-Solving Attitude In Children

Do you want to raise smart, happy kids with a problem-solving mindset and a great attitude towards learning? If so, I think you’re going to like what I’m going to share with you today.

This is the 5th in a series of 10 lessons on Teaching Empathy Through Play written by me, Nanci J Bradley. Let’s start out by going over what we’ve already learned in lessons 1-4. If you haven’t read them yet, please go back and do so as each lesson is designed to build on knowledge given in the previous lessons.

We learned previously how the circle of communication and your listening skills are much more important to family happiness than supplying material things, or classes.

We also learned how reading to your child and supplying them with information and conversation about emotions are the 2 most important things you can do to promote empathy.

Today we’re going to cover:

  • How your daily schedule works to keep your kids happy and peaceful

  • What you can learn from your child’s whining and how you can cure it using one little sentence

  • How problem-solving can make everyone's lives easier

  • The one sentence that no child should go a day without hearing (besides, “I love you”.)

Flexibility is great, but your schedule is what keeps you and your kids happy. Some people in the modern world have trouble with this. If you’re one of them, get over it. You’re the adult.

Having a predictable schedule is what allows kids to get through the times of the day that aren’t their favorite by looking forward to the times that are.

Plus, being able to accurately predict what will come next makes kids' brains light up with success.

Schedule Basics

Kids need to eat about every 3 hours (more often for infants, of course) since they tend to expend a lot of energy. If they don't eat on time, they start to get grouchy and surly. You might have noticed this. Here’s an article I wrote about Kid’s Moods and Foods that you might be interested in.

They also need to sleep enough. Believe me, I’m a sleep expert who’s read all the latest sleep doctors and gurus and applied that knowledge to getting actual children to sleep. Thousands of times. Sleep, personality, and learning are entirely interrelated. I can say that for sure. Here a link to an article I wrote about sleep for kids and adults that you might like.

In my child development home (aka family childcare home) I use a loose schedule that includes a lot of play and opportunities for learning. That’s because one of the most important things I’ve learned over 40+ years of hands-on childcare experience is that children are only happy when I allow them to learn at their greatest potential. It’s true.

We’re wired for learning, but we want to do it our own way and that can lead to problems with adults and their way of thinking.

That’s where we have to realize that they want to learn and set it up so they can get a chance to do so without ruining everything we, as adults, are trying to do. It’s a balance of priorities that makes a family happy and healthy.

In the next lesson, we’ll deal specifically with sensory issues and how they can both enhance and hinder learning, and what we can do about it. For now, just realize that everything human beings do or try to do starts out with the desire to learn and survive.

One last thing I want to say about schedules is that it helps to have it written down in a way that can be deciphered by everyone. If you have very young kids, it’s fun to take photos, print and laminate them, and use labels to lay out your day from start to finish horizontally. Or use drawings. Here’s an idea that works and lends itself to flexibility.


The first thing to know about whining is to be aware! First, you have to notice when your kids are whining and then you’ll know how to respond.

Think of it like this. Their whining makes us feel guilty. We’re not perfect and everyone knows that but we don’t need to let them control us through guilt at such a young age or it could easily develop into a habit.

So notice when they’re whining and say this:

I want to understand your question but I don’t like your tone of voice. I choose not to listen this time but ask me again in 5 minutes.

The time, as well as the language used, can be adjusted according to the developmental level of the child.

Stay firm. Set a timer if you have to but stick to your original time frame. If your child doesn’t yet understand “tone of voice” you’ll have to teach them through practice. You don’t have to feel obligated to say yes to their request because they ask politely but if they want a chance, they’re going to have to ask respectfully. That's an old preschool teacher trick and it really does work!

Problem Solving 101

Now for my favorite parenting and teaching trick. It concerns problem-solving. I talked a lot about non-violent communication in lesson 3 and here's a really practical way to use it.

When a child asks you for help and you wish they’d try and figure it out themselves, instead of saying no or dropping what you're doing to run and help, try saying OK, I'll help you with that puzzle (or that shoe) as soon as I'm done emptying the dishwasher (or changing baby's diaper. That should take me about 5 minutes and then I’ll be there.

This works because the child feels supported because you used an “I message” but may figure out the answer using trial and error before you ever get over to help. It has to do with the developmental concept of scaffolding (Lev Vygotsky) and giving the least amount of help the child needs to succeed.

Because I care for so many small children all at once, I’m pretty much always busy but if not, I improvise.

3 Little Words

So if you want your kids to grow up smart, happy, and eager to solve problems, help them just enough, but not too much, and when they do something wrong, focus on the deed done, not the child themselves. And use "I" messages.

And here’s a tip that can change the way you feel about parenting and/or teaching forever.

Everyone just wants to matter. Pay attention to what your child does that you really appreciate. Then tell them.

Try saying, "That was helpful!" And then tell them why it helped you.

“That was helpful” are the 3 most important words in the human language. When you learn to appreciate your child, they learn to appreciate others!

Thanks for reading! I know your time is precious. To get next week's lesson on Sensory issues delivered effortlessly to your inbox, join my community here! You'll instantly get my slideshow on How To Get Your Kids To Listen and Like It (with 21 parenting one-liners that work without yelling or time-outs).

Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, SELF-care facilitator, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.

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