Written by Kira Gavalakis
We have a whole lot of emotions for our kids. We might feel protective if our child is getting bullied. We might feel overwhelmed with joy when they celebrate a win. We might feel sadness when they can’t go on that field trip they were so excited about.
Of course, we want most of them to be positive, but ultimately, our emotions are coming from our deep-seated love and desire for their success. While that emotion is what makes parenting a total joy, it can get in the way when we decide to take on the role of educator.
In fact, it’s one of the biggest things I see as Elephant Learning’s Chancellor that’s holding parents back from seeing true success in their children.
When we decide to put emotion into teaching.
In this training resource, I’ll talk to you about the three ways parents typically react to their child doing poorly in a subject, how we can let those emotions go and be more of an objective coach, and how we can use this information moving forward in our child’s journey.
So, your kid failed their math test. Typically, there are three responses a homeschooling parent might have:
Number 1: Projecting the emotions out. When a parent is projecting their feelings, they’re telling the child that they’ve failed doing the work needed to “succeed.” This often looks like placing the blame on their child’s apparent bad attitude, constant laziness, or their inability to pay attention.
Number 2: Denying failure. When a parent is denying the failure, it’s typically because they’re feeling emotional when grading their kid’s test, like feeling remorse at an “almost there, but not quite” answer, ultimately letting subjectivity win.
Number 3: A parent shifts their subjectivity to objectivity. While I recognize the difficulties in doing this, this approach will best benefit both your child and yourself the most. This means really looking at the way you’re treating these “failures” and seeing them as opportunities. We’ll get into this in more detail.
You might see that Number 1 and Number 2 both have a commonality: they’re both backed in emotions. Number one might project things like anger, frustration, or upset. Number 2 might look like sadness, remorse, or pity.
Whatever these feelings are, there’s one thing that’s for certain; these feelings are getting in the way of why our kid is actually struggling. Are they making simple mistakes? Or, did they never really grasp the concept? While we’re focusing on our emotions, we’re not facing the true nature of the “failure,” and seeing how to fix those errors for the next time. We’re also not seeing that our child isn’t trying to make us feel these feelings; it’s us who are making the emotions arise, not them.
So, how do we allow for mistakes? We look at failure as a learning experience, as opposed to a disappointment.
Take Elephant Learning as an example-- the platform I created. We measure students’ understanding with the Elephant Age, which took a lot of thought but is ultimately the ideal way, in my opinion, of measuring understanding.
Firstly, it only goes up, just like a regular age, because every human being on this planet is always in a process of gaining information, not losing information. This means that yes, even failure means gaining information, which is why an Elephant Age will never drop, no matter how many times a student gets an answer wrong.
I created the platform not to look at failure as something wrong, but as a learning experience. Your 7-year-old son isn’t understanding multiplication? Our software takes that into account, and continuously puts those concepts he’s struggling with in front of him so he can face his individual challenges. His “failures” in the platforms aren’t failures at all-- but learning opportunities to teach him lasting principles.
Change your ways, not your kid’s ways.
Disclaimer: sometimes, emotions are inline with “coaching”. For example, when a basketball team is down by two points and a coach is yelling to not make it go for three, I see that emotion as pretty inline with the moment. But when your child is failing in math, you have to ask yourself if that same in-the-moment anger, frustration, or disappointment, is inline with the moment.
Personally, I don’t believe any of those emotions are. From a coaching perspective, it solely boils down to practicalities and objectivity: what their understanding is, and how to continue building it up, without feelings attached to it.
Praying that your kid performs “perfectly” is the emotion that’s blocking you from achieving your goal of objectivity around homeschooling.
Praying that your kid performs “perfectly” is deeming failure as wrong before understanding its values.
This logic won’t look at objectivity, which ultimately needs to be the decision-maker for your child.
Pretend you’re an AI tool like Elephant Learning. Your job is to analyze each child’s conceptual knowledge and understanding. You provide them with a measuring tool that shows them what they know, and continually place challenges in front of them that are meant to challenge them. Otherwise, they’ll stay at the same level the whole time, and never understand something.
I didn’t train the Elephant Learning platform to make decisions like a caretaker, with emotion and feelings behind it. It’s strategically there to be completely objective, without striving for a child’s perfection but instead encouraging challenges and, yes, “failures” to continue the upwards learning curves that failures typically bring.
When you think like a platform, you can notice that emotions are less of a deciding factor, and facts and figures really stand stronger.
You realize that the logic of math doesn’t allow for subjectivity and feelings. That the lack of emotions behind grading our children doesn’t mean we’re being cold or harsh to our kids. It means that we’re giving them the opportunity to fail, learn from that failure, and continue on with that newfound knowledge.
To wrap this all up-- what do you do if your child is failing at math, but you don’t want to bring emotions into it? I believe in the age-old adage: 10,000 hours. Continue them on a tool like Elephant Learning that’ll give them fragmented learning time that’s manageable and challenging. Give them those 10,000 hours in the way that works for them and that’s challenging, and remember that you shouldn’t be striving for perfection.
Emotions have their places, but teaching your child is not one of them.
Math anxiety — a fear of getting math concepts and problems wrong and the resulting avoidance of math because of that — is something I’ve seen many times over my life and not just in children. It’s just as prevalent in adults and, believe it or not, despite my PhD in math, I experienced math anxiety as a child, too. While some children allowed their math anxiety to grow into a lifelong avoidance of math, mine fueled my competitive spirit and led me to push ahead of my peers, learning advanced math concepts even when I wasn’t able to get into the advanced math classes my middle school offered.
It is never too late to understand math. At a young age, many of us had the experience of being told that “we are just not a numbers person.” Books have been written on this social phenomena, and half of all Americans report Math anxiety. As it turns out, mathematics is really about learning jargon, a jargon that is so fundamental to humanity that we consider it vocabulary.
At the end of the day, algebra comes down to these three steps: define, recognize and produce. No matter if your child is in middle school or a PhD math program, it’s all about defining (can you understand it?), recognizing (can you identify it?), and producing (can you use it to produce results or new research?). If you can help your child with these three aspects of algebra at home, they’ll be better set up for success in the classroom and the future.
Most students learn to multiply in school by memorizing their multiplication tables. There’s nothing wrong with memorizing multiplication tables, but a child must know what the multiplication tables mean. If they’re multiplying seven by six, they need to have that picture in the back of their head of six groups of seven or seven groups of six. If not, they don’t have a true understanding of what multiplication actually is and it won’t serve them later on in life. Take, for example, a child who knows that five times four is 20. She can solve the multiplication problem with ease.