Brain injury - Problem solving skills

  • Problem solving skills can be affected after a brain injury. Problem solving skills allow us to adjust our behaviour and respond effectively to new or challenging situations.

    What are they?

    Problem solving skills belong to a collection of cognitive (thinking) skills that are often referred to as 'executive functions' or 'higher level thinking skills'. Problem solving skills help people to:

    • approach new or difficult activities
    • adjust their approach or behaviour when they are unsuccessful at a task
    • respond effectively to unexpected situations
    • make decisions

    Examples of problem solving difficulties

    The following list outlines some of the common difficulties that may be seen on an everyday basis that could indicate problems in this area:

    • not being able to work out why something has gone wrong
    • using trial and error methods rather than thinking logically
    • making mistakes repeatedly because the child can't grasp what is causing the mistake
    • not anticipating possible problems associated with certain actions
    • not being able to generate alternative solutions or approaches when initial attempts don't work
    • not being able to evaluate choices and decide between them effectively
    • avoiding or not coping with new situations and new challenges
    • having trouble generating creative ideas

    What strategies might help?

    • Help the child use structured questions to approach new tasks, decision making and problem solving such as:what is the problem?, what are the possible solutions?, what are the pros and cons?, which is the best solution?
    • Help the child generate possible solutions. If necessary provide a range of solutions, and help them to work out and evaluate the options. It may be helpful, if appropriate, to have them experience the consequences of the possible solutions.
    • Explain mistakes and other events clearly and simply by emphasising the relationship between cause and effect.
    • Provide a generic 'action plan' for when something unexpected happens, such as 'call home', or devise specific plans for specific new situations.
    • Rehearse new situations before they occur, such as catching the train to a new school, and rehearse emergency action plans.
    • Provide activities, topics or ideas with clear boundaries, rather than leaving tasks open ended.

    Key points to remember

    • Problem solving skills allow us to adjust our behaviour and respond effectively to unexpected, new or challenging situations.
    • Problem solving skills are often affected following a brain injury.
    • A child with problem solving difficulties will need structured support to manage complex tasks and/or situations. Over time, children may be able to learn problem solving strategies and require less support.

    For more information

    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Paediatric Rehabilitation Service based on information from the Brain Injury Service at The Children's Hospital Westmead. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed September 2020.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit


    This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.