Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Monday, August 13, 2012

SODAS for Classroom Success: Simple Problem-Solving Skills for Kids

Backpack or messenger bag?  Leggings or jeans?  Pony-tail or braids?  Kids have so many decisions to make when it comes to preparing to go back to school this Fall.  While many of their issues can be solved with relative ease (that’s not to say that deciding on a first-day-of-school outfit is easy!), academic and social problems often prove to be much more of a challenge for kids.  

You can help prepare your child to successfully manage the difficult problems that are bound to arise this school year by teaching him specific problem-solving strategies.  SODAS is a simple, easy-to-recall method that prepares kids of most ages to tackle their troubles and seek out solutions.  Here’s an example of how one mother taught SODAS to her second-grade daughter:

Jenna came home from school on Friday in tears—again!  She seemed sad and frustrated every afternoon this week, but she didn’t want to tell anyone why.  With the weekend finally upon us, I decided it was a good time to help her tackle whatever was bugging her.  I started by asking her to tell me what was making her feel so upset.
Situation:  Teach your child to move beyond the emotion of the moment and identify what it is about a specific situation that is causing a problem.

 “Alli wouldn’t talk to me after recess today because she was mad that I played with Hailey.  Hailey tells me I’m not her friend anymore every time I sit with Abby on the bus.  I like both girls but it makes me so frustrated to be pulled between them!”

With some gentle questioning, Jenna was able to identify the problem situation.  Next, her mother asked her to consider her options.

Options:  Practice brainstorming skills, encouraging your child to creatively and freely say or list all of the options for solving the problem.  Don’t put limits on the free-flowing process.

·         I could just try to ignore Alli and Hailey when they are being mean to me. 
·         I could eat lunch with Alli and play with Hailey at recess.
·         I could talk to both girls and explain that I like them both and want to find a way to all get along. 
·         I could tell them both to just leave me alone.

Jenna wrote her ideas down on a piece of paper as they came to her.  There was no editing at this early stage—just brainstorming all the options for her social dilemma.  

Disadvantages:  Here’s where the editing comes in.  Teach your child to consider the potential negative or unintended consequences of the various options she generates.

Mom: What might be the disadvantages of ignoring the girls?  Of trying to divide your time?  Of talking honestly to them?  Of ending the friendships altogether?

Jenna’s mom encourages her daughter to consider each option by asking non-leading questions about the disadvantages of each.  When kids have mastered the SODAS process, they can carry it out independently.

Advantages:  Continue with the process by having your child consider the possible advantages of each option.

            Mom:  What good could come if you ignored Alli and Hailey? 

This step is the flip-side of the previous one.  Jenna is now encouraged to consider the advantages of each option.

Select the Best Solution:  Round out your child’s analysis and problem-solving skill development, by having her select the best solution, based on the advantages and disadvantages she has considered.

Jenna: I think I’m going to try telling both Alli and Hailey that they mean a lot to me as friends and that it is important to me to be able to spend time with more than one friend in school each day.  I’ll even see if the three of us can use SODAS to figure out a way that we can all enjoy spending time together.

Sometimes the best question for a child to ask herself is, “What do I want to have happen in this situation?” and “Is this a solution I can live with?”

When your child faces a tough academic challenge or a troubling social problem this year in school, will she know how to handle it?  Children who are equipped with reliable problem-solving skills benefit from the confidence of knowing that they can handle any crisis that comes along in the classroom.  

Signe Whitson is a national educator on bullying, anger in children, and crisis intervention for kids.  She is the author of three books, including How to Be Angry: An Assertive Anger Expression Group Guide for Kids and Teens.   For workshop inquiries, please visit, "Like" Signe on Facebook, or Follow her on Twitter @SigneWhitson.  

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