Cognitive Development
Promoting Problem-Solving
WiseTip: CD-SOL-M1626-I01B

Ask questions that challenge your toddler to think about problems, for example, “What can you do next?” or “What do you need to fix that?”


Toddlers learn how to problem-solve by imitating their caregivers, so be sure to talk through the simple problems you face each day. Two-year-olds don't always respond well to being told what to do, so try to form a partnership with your hard-working investigator. Ask open-ended questions, such as, "Oh, no. The ball is stuck. What do you think we can do?"

Caregivers can scaffold children’s learning by providing verbal instruction. Appropriate scaffolding takes into account the developmental status of the learner, and their understanding of and ability to complete a task.

Studies have shown that parents who can scaffold learning by asking leading questions, such as, "Does it fit somewhere else?" and voicing suggestions, such as, "Why don’t you try over there?" enhance the learning of two-to four-year-old children.

Other kinds of verbal instruction, such as verbally directing attention to distinctive features of the subject matter and verbal prompting, have also been found to help children encode information for problem-solving.
2, 3
  1. Driscoll, M. P. (2005). Psychology of learning for instruction. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

  2. Hou, S., & So, W. (2017). Combining gesture with verbal instruction promotes problem-solving skills among young children attempting difficult tasks. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 14(1), 87–101.

Read more at CD-SOL-C03.