Teaching your own child can be difficult. One of the most common thing parents say to me when we meet for the first time is that they would like to help their children at home, but somehow they can’t make it work. Mums tell me “I’m just mum to him, and he doesn’t believe what I try to tell him”. Dads tell me “I know how to help her, but we get tears every time I try.”
Many of the children we work with really have reached a point where professional tuition is the best – and perhaps only – way forward, at least for a while. A crisis of confidence can make the gentlest child panic and lash out when mum or dad tries to help. If your child is reacting like that it’s really important that you understand why. Often, children are terrified of looking stupid or of disappointing the people they care about the most: mum and dad. And it doesn’t matter how many times you reassure them. The fear will remain until their confidence increases.
The key to teaching your own child is establishing a relationship of trust, so that they are never worried about what happens if they make mistakes or forget things. But what does that actually mean, practically speaking?
Here are three tips that will help to build trust and make sure your child enjoys learning with your help.
Tip One: Don’t Put Them On The Spot
For a confident child, times tables tests in the car can be a fun way of showing off their knowledge. A struggling child will wish they could curl into a ball and roll under the seat. For a confident child, asking them to tell you what they learnt at school that day is a great way of helping them to practise recalling information and explaining things. A struggling child will see it as a way of making them feel stupid.
When teaching your child at home, bear in mind that memory is one of the first things that suffers when we are under stress. This means that if your child is worried about their homework, quizzing them on what they know is almost guaranteed to make the problem worse.
Tip Two: Use Positive Language
It’s easy to fall into the trap of saying “no” much more often than “yes”, or only commenting when children make mistakes. A confident child won’t necessarily mind this, because they will just assume that they’re doing the right thing unless they’re told otherwise. A struggling child will often assume the exact opposite – that everything they do is wrong, unless they’re told otherwise. So they need to be reassured as they work.
When teaching your child at home, praise them frequently. As a guide, try to say “yes”, “well done”, “that’s right” or similar positive words of encouragement more often than you find yourself having to say “no”. Whenever they manage to work independently, make sure they hear frequent little words of encouragement as they work, just to reassure them that they’re on the right track so they don’t lose faith in themselves.
Tip Three: Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
A confident child will be bored if they’re asked to repeat the same task, for the simple reason that if they got it all right the first time there’s nothing further for them to learn from it. A struggling child will find constantly moving on to new tasks and new topics overwhelming and frightening. For a struggling child, repeating a task is hugely reassuring and confidence building – as long as they feel rewarded for their improvement. The improvement may sometimes seem small to you, but bear in mind that any improvement at all is a big deal for a struggling child.
When teaching your child at home, establish a routine of repeating exercises until they can do them easily. Maths is especially well-suited to this. Photocopy the question sheet, or answer on a separate page each time, and record the score. Discuss and correct the mistakes, and then repeat the exercise – either straight away or in a day or two. Lavish praise on them for every answer that is now correct that wasn’t correct before (and don’t worry if they’ve memorised the answer – memory skills need practice too!). If necessary repeat the process a day or two later, until they get them all right.
Progress may be slow to start with, but stick with it and you and your child will be well rewarded. One day soon you’ll take a step back, watch your child working away at the table next to you, and realise that you too now have a confident child.
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