Are you sabotaging your child’s learning?

Image credit: iStock

‘What I Wish Parents Knew’ is a series on issues parents should know, from a private tutor’s perspective.

Julie storms into our tutoring session saying, “I hate maths.” She has decided that she is “not a maths person”. As our session progresses Julie procrastinates, fidgets, and generally avoids trying to engage with the new concept I am trying to introduce, because “maths is dumb”. Her mother walks in and says, “I was never a maths person either.”

This scenario happens way more than you think. I’ve found that parental attitudes towards a subject can make or break a child’s eventual academic success in it.

When you say “I’m not a maths person”, you might think you are empathising with your child. But really, you are simply giving your child an excuse to not engage with maths. You are your child’s role model, like it or not. And if you, a functioning adult in society, can ignore maths, why can’t your child?

But even if maths “wasn’t your thing” when you were younger, I bet it plays a daily role in your life now. You use maths to calculate change, understand your investments, read financial statements and more. Plus, even if you think the current maths syllabus won’t play a major role in your child’s adult life, the better he understands the maths topics, the better he will be prepared for whatever life throws at him.

Role modelling a positive growth mindset can really influence your child for the better – and not just in maths. I’ve seen the same corrosive, poor attitudes about reading play a part in hindering a child’s early literacy development.

I ask a child who has come to me for help with reading, “what do you read at home?”. Often, the answer is “not much”. And what do their parents read? Not much either.

Parents need to put down their smartphones – screens are associated with games and that’s not the message you want to send – and pick up a newspaper, book, print magazine or just about anything else. Kids need to see you reading – then they will want to read.

Here is what you can do to encourage a growth mindset and be a good role model:

  1. Instead of “I never saw the point in learning maths”, say “I’m proud of you for sticking with this tough project.”
  2. Instead of “maths is too difficult”, say “that feeling of maths being hard is the feeling of your brain growing, keep trying and it will get better.”
  3. Let your kids see you use your reading and maths skills. Visit the library often. Involve your children in your everyday maths needs – get them to help convert recipes or total up bills.
  4. If your kids are working on topics that are beyond your abilities, ask them to teach you instead. Be engaged with what they are doing; this will build an emotional connection that will help your child put in the effort needed.

What if Julia’s mum had said, “I struggled in maths too, why don’t you teach me what you’re learning?”? This would have helped in two important ways – by modelling the right attitude and a willingness to engage, and allowing Julia to solidify her learning by trying to teach it to someone else.

Maths concepts can be hard, but the best first step is a willingness to engage with the subject. And all too often that lack of willingness is modelled by the parents. So, make sure you aren’t inadvertently sabotaging your child!


Troy Therrien is a maths and science tutor who believes that maths can be, and should be, for everyone. Find out more about him and his tutoring business at

to top