Some of our most trying moments in home learning arise when our child looks us in the eye with a forlorn stare that tells us they are struggling with a problem. The weight of responsibility can feel overwhelming. Our parental instincts move us to rush to our child’s aid and provide whatever comfort they need. But when it’s a math problem that has them stuck, we might lack the knowledge or confidence ourselves to provide the necessary support.
What are we to do?
Thankfully, there are some simple steps that every parent can take to help your child through moments of difficulty, whatever your level of expertise in math. These steps will give you the peace of mind that you are doing everything you can to help your child learn and develop.
A caveat: as you well know, every child is unique. Nobody knows your child better than you do so treat these points as general guidelines. How you interpret and apply this advice depends very much on your child’s specific needs and preferences.
1. Foster a growth mindset
There’s lots of research that shows that students learn more when they believe that they are in control of their intelligence – that hard work will make them smarter. This is called a ‘growth mindset’. The opposite is a ‘fixed mindset’, which is where students believe that no matter how hard they work, their intelligence is fixed. As a parent, you can foster a growth mindset by praising and rewarding your child for their effort rather than their ‘ability’.
2. Compare learning to exercise
A great way to foster a growth mindset is to remind your child that the brain is a muscle, and that learning is simply exercise for the brain! When your child struggles, or makes a mistake, it just means they are working their brain that little bit harder. Just like with physical exercise, when learning feels tough it’s a good indication that we are pushing ourselves to reach another level.
3. Provide scaffolded support…but not the answer
As parents we have to resist that urge to just give our child the answer. It takes skill and patience to not jump in right away, especially when the answer might seem obvious to us. A more effective approach is to give your child a prompt – a hint or clue that still gives them a chance of solving the problem for themselves. They will feel so much more satisfied for achieving the breakthrough rather than having it handed to them, and their understanding of the problem will also be stronger as a result.
4. Come up with strategies together
If your child has a gap in their knowledge, you can discuss what options are available. The internet is usually just a few clicks away, although it is so vast that you might choose to focus on a few trusted resources. Don’t forget about good old-fashioned books! Maybe there’s also a friend or family member worth consulting. A problem shared is a problem halved, after all.
5. Sleep on it
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night by recalling the name of an old friend or actor that you had spent so long the previous day trying to remember? It’s amazing how often we manage to solve a problem only after we’ve stopped paying attention to it. The human brain is remarkable; it works so hard throughout the day, thinking through things that we’re not even conscious of. So stepping away from a problem, or sleeping on it, gives our brain a chance to make more connections and come up with answers that initially escape us. Learning is not to be rushed!
6. Use a virtual tutor
A virtual tutor like Math-Whizz will automatically detect when your child is struggling, and it will highlight these areas to you as a parent. Not only that, the tutor will then choose lessons that are perfectly matched to your child’s needs at any given time – if they need to go back to recap a previous lesson or fill a knowledge gap, the tutor will direct them automatically.
We all want our child to grow up with grit and tenacity, to overcome whatever hurdles are placed in front of them. That is easier said than done at times and once again, only you know what works best for your child. We hope these suggestions give you some general, practical ideas on how you can help your child create powerful learning moments out of struggle.
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