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‘What I Wish Parents Knew’ is a series on issues parents should know, from a private tutor’s perspective.
Sophie is a bright, curious 16-year-old whose mother drives her to tutoring every week. During our sessions at the local library, her mother sits nearby, reading a magazine. At the end of the session, her mother always goes over the homework I’ve set, nagging Sophie to write each task down in her planner. What she doesn’t see is how Sophie’s attitude changes – from interested and engaged during our sessions, to withdrawn and passive. I want so badly to tell Sophie’s mother about this, but I worry about coming across as unprofessional.
All this is to say – a parent’s attitude about their child can make or break a kid. This little interaction between Sophie and her mother might seem inconsequential, but it can have outsized effects on Sophie’s mental and emotional development.
First, there’s the issue of trust. It’s clear Sophie’s mother doesn’t trust Sophie to even walk to tutoring (they live nearby) or to remember her homework. From my interaction with Sophie, I could see that while she might not be the most organised student, she was motivated and enthusiastic about trying to improve. Not having her mother’s trust really affected that motivation.
Then, there’s the question of independence. By packing snacks for Sophie, nagging at her incessantly to remember things, and not letting her attend tuition on her own, Sophie’s mum was preventing her from being independent.
Encouraging independence and trusting in your child both contribute to the development of self-esteem, identity and well-being. Most of all, it increases the sense of agency a child has, which powerfully affects their ability and desire to work hard. It is difficult to motivate oneself if you feel that you have little agency or power over the outcome.
The concept of independence goes to the very heart of what it means to be a parent, I believe. All we are here to do, as parents and educators, is to help a child be the best that he can be, on his own. We teach our children to brush their own teeth and wipe their own bums – eventually they will have to find their own careers, build their own families and make all their decisions themselves. If we don’t let our children do things on their own, how will they be ready for the real world?
As a tutor, I feel that it is the children who feel secure in their parents’ trust and who have been allowed some degree of independence that really seem engaged in their learning. They tend to ask questions if they don’t understand, take ownership of their assignments and overall, seem most interested in improving academically.
So, if you’re butting heads with your child, maybe it’s time to consider allowing them a little independence. Let them earn your trust, step by step, and reap the rewards. Trust your child to do the right thing.
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 www.learncomoxvalley.com.