Tears streamed down his cheeks, yet Daryl didn’t look up from his book as his mother, Dawn, asked in a controlled tone, “Why can’t you understand this? This is the third time I am repeating it already.”
Dawn Lee faces a daily struggle in coaching her son in his studies. Seven-year-old Daryl breaks down into tears nearly every day, triggered by the frustration of not understanding the lessons.
“I know that he doesn’t understand, so I try to be patient and explain to him again but he still doesn’t get it. I think maybe I should change my teaching method. But I don’t know how else to do it,” said Dawn in despair.
Ask any parent what it is like to teach their children and you’ll inevitably hear tales of teary-eyed kids, sullen faces, screaming parents and frayed tempers. Even with the best of intentions, parents will tell you that teaching your own child is a very challenging task.
Dawn has ruled out tuition for now, but says she will read up on other methods to coach her son more effectively.
Understanding how your child learns best
What makes teaching our children so difficult? Norwegian-American Clinical Psychologist Dr Ivar Lovaas suggested that the change should come from us. “If a child cannot learn in the way we teach, we must teach in a way the child can learn.”
Angela Ang spends almost 6 hours daily tutoring her three tweens—8, 10 and 12. She tailors her teaching methods to cater for her children’s different learning styles.
“I cannot use the same method that worked for my older boy on my younger one, even for the same topic like fractions. Perhaps because I spend time observing them, I seem to know intuitively now how to tweak the way I teach,” explains Angela.
To explain the mathematical concept of fractions to her younger son, Aidan, Angela uses Lego bricks and other hands-on activities like baking. Aidan learns better through touching and manipulating objects. However, her older boy, Aaron, prefers to learn by studying diagrams in his textbooks and worksheets, and listening to explanations on the concepts.
It took Angela some time to realise that Aidan is a kinesthetic learner while Aaron is a combination of an auditory and visual learner. Angela’s youngest daughter, Ashlyn, shares Aaron’s learning style.
Be a coach, not a teacher
Besides learning styles, some parents like Alva Lim, do not believe in being a teacher to his 14-year-old daughter, Agatha. Instead, he sees himself as her coach. He and his wife, Bernice, are hugely influenced by Albert Einstein’s famous quote, “I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”
“I do not believe in repeating what has already been done in schools and during her tuition. My wife and I review her work regularly to see what she is weaker at. We ask her questions and figure out what she doesn’t know.”
We provide timely feedback to teachers about her needs, and offer her support in planning her revision and coping with her weaker areas. We are around but we never hover while she works.
Like good coaches, Bernice also makes sure that Agatha approaches her studies with a positive state of mind. “Agatha keeps to her timetable and learns a lot better when she is happy. When she is stressed, she cannot absorb or understand school material as easily. So we make it a point to ensure her study area is conducive for learning. Besides hitting the books, we also encourage her to participate in other activities to relax and pick up some skills.”
Here are additional tips on how you can be your child’s favourite study companion.
- Keep your emotions in check. Punishment and threats will not help to motivate your child to do well in his studies and may even be detrimental to your relationship with him. Remember, your child does not set out to make your life miserable. When you feel yourself getting worked up, remember that your child is also trying his best to live up to your expectations. Rather than let emotions get the better of you, it is more constructive to explore ways of helping your child learn.
- Make learning at home fun. Your child already has a long day at school. The last thing he needs is another person hovering over him at home! Focus on supporting and encouraging your child instead of constantly nagging. Help him plan a study schedule and teach him to manage his time. Give him space to do his revision and solve his own problems. Let him know that he can always come to you for help on concepts he has difficulty grasping. For example, you may draw pictures or graphs and even use objects to make lessons more interesting and facilitate understanding. Motivate him by giving rewards for his efforts or upon reaching certain milestones.
- Figure out how your child learns best. Is your child a visual learner, auditory learner or kinesthetic learner? Learn more about what you can do to teach a kinesthetic, visual or auditory learner. Read “Learning Styles in Children” to get more information.