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The importance of problem solving

For you and I, problem solving is something we do all the time, especially having young babies and children! We’re constantly finding ways to solve issues throughout our day, but for babies and young children, problem solving is much more than that. It’s how they make sense of the whole world around them. 

When we complete your baby or toddler’s developmental review, problem solving is a milestone we’ll look at. It’s an important life skill that they need to develop so that they can make decisions for themselves. Solving problems will help them to be more confident and independent, and stop them from feeling frustrated.

Babies and toddlers are exploring their surroundings all the time and learn so much about the world they live in by using their senses. We see babies accidentally touching a rattle that leads to a noise. Isn’t it then incredible to look at the concentration in their faces when they are try to work out what they did to make that noise? That’s problem solving. 

As your baby grows, the tasks they take on become more varied and definitely more complex!

At around 9-12 months, your baby will begin to want to interact with his surroundings. He’ll watch items with interest as they move around or fall to the ground, working out what made it happen. He will want to try and repeat that same action too, dropping items to the floor over and over again – this is problem solving!

He will love to play peek a boo with you – this never gets old because by the end of their first year, babies realise that people and objects still exist even when they are out of sight. Hiding his toys or an interesting item under a cushion or muslin will pique his interest. You’ll see him trying to work out where it went to and how he can get it back. He's using his recall function to remind himself of the item and then his problem-solving skills will kick in and help him to work out the way to retrieve that little car or giraffe or even the remote control! 

He’ll now be able to easily pass toys between his hands and move them close to his face to be able to study the more intricate details of them. 

As your baby approaches his first birthday, these activities and games will become far easier. He'll start to copy when you wave or blow kisses, he’ll begin to recognise names for items and may even be able to point at the correct item when you ask him.

Notice how your baby is drawn to your pots and pans? They’ve learnt that they can create lots of noise by banging two objects together. 

Using a spoon or brush or sponge becomes easier too. Your baby will know that the spoon means food and will try his best to use it himself, as he will try drinking from a cup or attempting to brush his own teeth or hair! 

By 18 months, the art of imagination will begin to show in your toddler’s play. For example, using a remote control as a phone. He’ll be able to follow simple requests like “coat on” or “sit down”.  Whether he wants to do what he's been asked is an entirely different story altogether!

Games involving shape and colour are definitely good ones to play around the age of 2. His problem-solving skills have become more complex by now. Shape sorters and colour matching are great activities we can do with our toddlers.  

He’ll be able to build towers and work out how to balance one block on top of another so they don’t fall – we aren’t talking 20 foot high but 4-6 objects aren’t beyond him now. 

As his language and vocabulary increases, he’s able to sing along with those rhymes or familiar phrases in books. Encourage lots of singing and reading at home – it helps with language development, problem solving, and memory skills and it’s a lovely activity you can do together.  

Using the world around us to help with our child’s development is great. Taking that walk every day if you can, and looking at the colours of the leaves, of the cars, of the front doors as you go, can help him to associate colour and shape in everyday items.  

Our little ones are such sponges – they absorb and take in everything!  

For more information on your baby or toddler’s development, visit our support and advice pages. If you have any concerns about your child’s development, you can contact your health visitor.

About the author

Kirstie is the Professional Development Lead Health Visiting and Infant Feeding Lead for Berkshire Healthcare