How to Sabotage Play to Teach Problem-Solving Skills

sabotage final

So today I’ve been feeling sabotaged. I made myself a massive spring cleaning list, but for some reason my kids keep leaving toys on the floor, dropping crumbs under the table, and needing 2-3 clothing changes per day! So inconsiderate. Can’t they tell I can’t do the daily housework AND my spring cleaning? (Hence why things like scrubbing the baseboards and washing walls only happen once a year).

But that frustration inspired this post about sabotage in play. What I love about this concept is that it’s usually never your fault. You can purposefully sabotage play to teach problem-solving and/or communication skills to a child of any age or any ability.

It’s super simple, and I’ll give you three examples of play sabotage with different age groups

  1. For the under 3 crowd, this could be something as simple as blocking the effect in a cause-and-effect toy. Think car ramps, balls that spin down lanes, one of those pop-up toys, any sort of wind-up toy, anything like that. You could put another toy in the way, put your finger there, etc. You decide what communicative response you need from your child to remove the obstacle. This could be making eye contact, making any vocalizations, or asking for help (signing or verbalization). The trick with this age group is to not let your child get too frustrated or they will just give up. You  may need to model what you want your child to do.
  2. For the 4-6 crowd, the idea is something is missing. A puzzle piece, a special doll, a favorite dress-up, the ONLY car that works with a certain Hot Wheels set, etc. In this age group, you are aiming for your child to ask for help looking for it, and working through a thought process to find the missing item. This leads into a productive conversation of “Well, where did you see it last?” ” Where do you think it might be?”
  3. For the 7 and up crowd, I would use silly sabotage. At this age group, they will most likely notice you sneaking something, or they are cognitively high enough to solve the problem themselves. This is where you make a mistake. This could be reading a word wrong, building something wrong, labeling something incorrectly, etc. Totally ham it up when your child calls you on it. Then say something like, “Can you help me fix it?” or “I am so silly, what do you think I can do to fix it?”

Does this strategy make sense? It’s really fun to do and watch a child’s reaction. It is also a great life lesson, because things rarely go the way we plan them to, and children need to learn how to solve problems and adapt.

Give it a try, and please let me know how it goes!

Author: Miss Haley

My name is Haley, and I am a wife, mother, and speech therapist. I want to teach parents simple yet effective speech therapy principles and strategies to improve language at home.

2 thoughts on “How to Sabotage Play to Teach Problem-Solving Skills”

  1. I have never heard of this strategy, but I love it! I can see the value achieved without the child realizing they are “learning”‘

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