Finding the balance.

  • Posted on: 28 August 2015
  • By: Johanna

A math blogger I follow posted a link to an article in the Washington Post titled Why did I give up on math? Ask my mom. It was written by a journalist that enjoyed math as a child, but when she struggled a bit in grade 7, her mother told her "It's OK to be bad a math, I'm not good at math either." And so she gave up, taking her mother's statement as

approval to suck at math.

Being a mother that's an engineer and loves math, and aware of how much external influence affects girl's decisions to pursue math and science, this article really spoke to me. It made me think about how my own daughter struggled with reading. I struggled with reading as well, but instead of leaving it alone, I focused on working with my daughter on reading. We spent a summer doing “summer home schooling” working on spelling and reading.

After struggling a month trying to do my own thing, I finally contacted a friend of mine that is an Orton-Gillingham tutor to help with putting together a reading and writing program for us to work through. We made much better progress after that, and by the end of the summer my daughter's reading ability improved greatly.

Like me, my daughter loves math, and we love solving problems together. It's so easy to get sucked down the hole doing something we love. That's why I spent time working on reading with her, it takes work. Math still happens organically, because we like it, and it's fun. She still needs encouragement to focus on subjects like English and Social Studies, to get her less favourite subjects done first, before working on her favourite subjects.

Then a few days after reading that article, another friend posted a quote from the Celebrate Calm Facebook page “Never feel pressured to fix all of your child's weaknesses. Some kids just stink at science or math. Sometimes we make the mistake of spending all of our energy fixing what can't or doesn't need to be fixed. Meanwhile, their natural gifts and passions atrophy. Better in the long run to focus on building their strengths.”

Again, as an engineer and mom, there is nothing that gets my back up more than when math and science are singled out as the subjects that “it's OK to suck at.” No it's not! As I posted in a comment, if “math and science” was replaced with “literacy” would the paragraph still resonate?

After a day or two to calm down and think about it more, there is a lot of validity in the quote, although it's still not OK to suck at math and science. If the second sentence read as “Kids can't excel in everything.” would be better.

Being involved with kids sports, I see a lot of parents living vicariously through their kids, especially in hockey. This happens in the academic field also, we've even (jokingly) said to our daughter: “You can be any kind of engineer you like.” Kids certainly are influenced by their parents, their primary role models, but kids need to explore their own interests, parents have to be careful to make sure that it's their child's interests that are coming first.

It makes me think of a friend of mine whose daughter was struggling in school. In retrospect, it was a teacher that was assigning far too much home work for the grade level. Her daughter ended up enrolled with a large tutoring company in a 6 month contract to come for 2 hours at a time twice a week. I told the mom that she was crazy, that's far too much. They didn't even do homework with the daughter, they just ran through their own program! Although there was some benefit, it increased adversity in the family, increasing frustration, and left far less time for other activities the daughter enjoyed.

Even though your child may be struggling in a subject, that doesn't mean you should punish them by denying activities they are interested in and love. Sometimes external pressures are unrealistic for your child, and that's your judgement call to make on what is reasonable, even if it means going against the system.

As a parent, I know what it feels like when your child is struggling. You want to do everything possible to help, and often feel lost as to what to do. Advice so often is conflicting, which adds to the frustration. I love the disclaimer a support group I used to attend used: think of advice as a smorgasborg, there is a large variety to choose from, pick what works for you and your family, and leave the rest behind.

Remember to put your family first, that includes your child. If they are struggling, support them, don't give up and be careful not to impose your own biases on their struggles. But don't take away what they love either, life doesn't have to be an either/or, but a smorgasborg to enjoy. You know when your child needs a push, or a little tough love, but not to extremes. Follow your instincts, and usually in time things work themselves out.

A tutor can help! Take your time to find the right fit, whether you want to get regular help, occasional help or support to work with your own child. Some tutors are flexible to accommodate other interests too, like shifting sports schedules.

And finally, remember to find the balance!

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