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Decoding Your Child's Math Struggles

Has math homework become THAT dreaded time-of-the-day in your household?

Maybe you’ve reached a point where, after 30 minutes of threatening to confiscate your kiddo’s device gentle coaxing, you finally get to sit a very reluctant child at the table and ask them to pull their homework out.

This should be over soon, you think. It’s just 2nd-grade math. Can’t be that hard.

Alas, five minutes later, your child is in tears and you feel like a complete idiot.

"I don’t remember math being so difficult!"

And thus begins the same hair-pulling routine tomorrow, the next day, and the day after that.

Dear parents, you are not alone.

70% of American parents today — yes that’s in 2021 — struggle to help their kids with math homework (according to OnePoll’s survey).

And that goes for both parents who recall what they’ve learned in school and those who don’t.

When relationships get strained from the constant stress of homework battles, what usually follows is AVOIDANCE.

That’s when your kiddo suddenly thinks, oh, now might be the best time to clean their room (and that’s right around homework-o’clock).

And you too might be tempted to throw your hands up and say it’s fine because you needed to go grocery shopping anyway.

What Many Parents Go Through

Since I founded TutorChat two years ago, I’ve had the chance to chat with so many amazing parents (mostly moms of every child we’ve ever tutored), and that was when I noticed a pattern:

It’s either that the parents somehow blame themselves for not being great at math (“What kind of adult doesn’t get 3rd-grade math?”).

Or they do know math but have a ton on their plate to carve out time for study sessions (“Isn’t that supposed to be the school’s job anyway?”)

If you find yourself in either situation, the first step towards really helping your child is UNDERSTANDING the root of their math struggles.

And that problem has nothing to do with laziness or your child's lack of ability to learn math.

Think screen time is the culprit? Nope. It’s really just a symptom that results from the problem.

Here’s what’s really up...

When your child falls behind in math, it’s MOST LIKELY because they lack the foundation (or so-called “building blocks”) to ‘get’ future math lessons.

That, combined with the limiting belief that they simply suck at math.

In the most basic sense, there’s no way you’ll be able to ADD numbers without learning how to count first.

And multiplication is impossible if you never learned to add.

The thing is, kids learn these fundamental math concepts at DIFFERENT paces. And that’s normal.

But most teachers don’t have the time to be 100% sure that every student has kept up.

The result? Lessons become increasingly harder as kids fall farther and farther behind. Then they start to believe that they just aren’t good at math.

They're caught in a self-fulfilling prophecy where they find the evidence for that thought when they don’t do as well on that next quiz.

Worst case scenario — they feel so left behind that they eventually just stop trying.

That’s when you start to hear lines like:

“Ugh, what’s the point?!”

“Can’t you see that I’m just really bad at math?”

“I’m just not as smart as the other kids.”

“This is so boring.”

How do we fix this?

Here Are THREE of TutorChat's Strategies:

If you look closely, you’ll see that the real problem didn’t really start with their lack of skill.

It started the moment they decided to stop trying.

But pressuring them to study isn’t going to cut it. And neither will just cheering them on.

Kids won’t just recover lost confidence because someone said so.

They need to see for themselves that they can, in fact, do it!

And that leads us to three of the strategies we apply when tutoring and mentoring our students.

  1. Give them a quick win Start by giving them simpler problems to solve (ones that you know they can solve) to help them grow their confidence and build learning momentum. *You will want to gradually increase the level of difficulty from there so they don’t get bored or feel like you stacked the deck. What you’re ultimately looking to hit is the learning sweet spot: a problem that is 3 to 5% above their present level of knowledge. (I understand that breaking down math concepts into student-friendly lessons isn’t every parent’s cup of tea, so if you feel that you could use some help in this area, just reach out to us!)

  2. Be a model of GRIT You may be Super Mom (or Super Dad) in their eyes, but if you want to teach them the real value of rising up after every failure, then it’s time to drop the “perfect” facade. Tell them that even you stumble and make mistakes sometimes. Relate to them stories of how you occasionally had to slog through the “difficult stuff” before reaching success. Even better, allow them to see you struggle and persevere.

  3. Praise the struggle, not the outcome As tempting as it is to give them a shoutout for those “A+’s”, be sure to attach the emotional reward to their effort, and not the grade. What you want is for your child to understand that when it comes to learning, feeling a sense of struggle means that they’re on the right path (not that they’re stupid). It's not that different from building a physical muscle. Muscles start developing around the time you start exerting a little more to keep lifting the weight. The same is true for the brain. The struggle is an indication that learning is happening. With this understanding in place, your child will start to push past the discomfort and learn to persevere past the inevitable challenges they encounter (in math & in life).

To that end, here’s one little-known fact that you should also know:

For high school, middle school, and elementary levels, math has more to do with their MINDSET than their IQ.

This means your child’s ability to do math has nothing to do with genes or natural talent at this stage, but with their confidence that they can do math! So help them rebuild their confidence, and the rest will follow.

We often get asked why we care so much about building our students’ mindset. Why don’t we just tutor kids math like everyone else?

Here’s why — It’s their mindset that ultimately ‘tells’ them what they can or can’t do. Any child can grow any skill with the right mindset.

And for long-term results, I highly suggest you focus on that too.

Wish you and your kiddo all the best on this journey!

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