Being a school based therapist, I get A LOT of kiddos sent to my office who make some not so effective choices when upset. I have some basic problem solving steps laid out in my office that I have found helpful in using with children of various ages.
I wrote these steps down and put them in a clear sheet protector so kids can write or draw their answers with dry erase markers. For whatever reason, kids seem to find this more fun and enjoy erasing their ideas to come up with more effective ones as we process it.
1) how are you feeling? The child writes or draws how they are feeling. Helping explore and validate the child’s feelings BEFORE attempting to “fix” the problem is crucial. This helps the children feel heard and validated and gets their brain in a calmer state to better think of potential solutions.
2) what is the problem? You may want to ask the child to tell you the WHOLE story not just the most recent upsetting incident. I usually use story stones or puppets for the child to act out their whole day leading up to that moment. You may find the root cause was something that happened before the child ever even made it to school not the fact their classmate stole their pencil.
3) what are the rules or limits? Basically setting the parameters the solutions can fall within. This helps the child better guide their problem solving ideas by reminding themselves of the expectations of their present environment.
4) what are THE CHILD’S ideas to make this better? You can offer prompts and creative suggestions but make sure you have the child on board. Also check back with step 3 to be sure their ideas fall within the rules and limits of where they are.
These also work great to have in “calm down areas” or “peace corners” in classrooms or at home!