Help Your Child Work Through Frustration in Math! | exSTEMsions
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Help Your Child Work Through Frustration in Math!

July 6, 2020

Frustration is short-term

Learning can be uncomfortable, but it is in this frustration that we often learn the most. As parents, teachers, or mentors, part of what we have to teach learners is that frustration is okay. We want them to know that frustration is short-term, and that if we take away their frustration (by solving the problem for them, for example), we also take away their opportunity to learn.

Think about a time when you, as an adult, had to learn something new. If you are anything like me, at some point early on you thought something like “What was I thinking to take this on?” followed by “Boy, I’m not sure this was a good idea.” and maybe “This is no fun.” Over time, though, you learned more and more, and you started to get a little more comfortable with what you were doing. You stuck with whatever you were learning, maybe partly because you probably had to, but also because you know, as an adult, that with time and practice, things get easier.

Now think about kids. When they learn new things, they too get uncomfortable. They go through the same thought process you and I do, with all of the normal doubts and frustrations. What they are sometimes missing though, is the benefit of experience, so they may not really understand that with practice and time things get easier. My instinct, as a parent, is to do whatever I can to protect my children from frustration - I want them to be happy. I want to give them the answer, or a piece of information that will help them over the hump; I want to take their frustration away. As a parent, a mentor, or a teacher, when you work through a problem with your child, it’s helpful to keep in mind that it really is okay to be uncomfortable as you learn. And, while it’s okay to be uncomfortable, at the same time we want to make sure that it’s not unbearable, or so uncomfortable that kids give up. Our role as parents and mentors is to help our kids work through the frustration, rather than be stalled by it.

Frustration pinterest

Working through frustration

So, you ask, how do I help my child “work through” frustration? This is the $1,000,000 question. For me, as a teacher, and as a parent, I think that when you notice one of my kids, or one of my students is uncomfortable, or is becoming frustrated, the best possible thing that you can do is to ask a question. The goal of the question is to help guide them through their struggle. You might feel uncomfortable doing this - much like the frustration we’re talking about - but knowing what to ask, and when to ask it, to help a child through frustration (rather than just doing it for them, and making them feel better) is yet another thing that gets easier with time and practice.

Here are some questions/statements that you might use to help a learner work through his or her frustration, when the time is right:

  • Tell me about how you got to this point. How did you start and what did you do so far? (Sometimes, backing up to think from the beginning again can be a huge help!)
  • Where in the problem did you start to feel stuck? Why do you think so?
  • How might you explain your thinking so far in a different way? (If the learner has been drawing pictures, maybe they can write equations; or if they have been writing equations, maybe instead they can draw pictures.)
  • What question could you ask that might help you move forward? (This may or may not be a question you as the mentor answer, it’s simply helping the learner consider what question they should answer in the next step.)

Next time you're frustrated (or your child is frustrated), step back for a moment and try to remember that sometimes, the best learning comes from the most difficult problems. Sometimes learning is hard, and that’s okay.

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