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The magic words that will encourage your kids to keep trying

Child Doing Homework


Calah Alexander - published on 09/19/17

Try this smart way to break down an overwhelming problem into manageable parts for your child.

In our family, I am not the go-to homework helper. Try as I might, I just can’t ever manage to help a frustrated child work out a problem. Sometimes it’s because the 6th-grade math is beyond me (English major, yo), but most of the time it’s because I struggle to understand what exactly the problem even is.

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Having a child say over and over, “I can’t get it! I don’t know why I can’t but I just can’t! I don’t understand any of it!” seriously tries my patience. I’ll try to explain how to solve it, but that rarely helps. Then I’ll try and encourage, saying, “You can do it! Keep trying. Don’t give up!” When that strategy inevitably fails, I fall back on the tried-and-true, “Just go to the next one and ask Dad when he gets home.”

This isn’t a great arrangement, since Dad often gets home late and is usually tired. He always helps anyway, but it makes for late nights for him and the kids. So when I read this post by the Military Wife&Mom that promised to tell me the one genius phrase that would inspire my kid to keep trying, I was dying to try it.

When I see kids say “I can’t” or want to give up or fall straight into whining, I love saying “Show me the hard part” because it gives you – the parent or teacher – a lot of useful information. It helps you know right away what part is easy and what part is especially hard for the child. It also helps the child recognize what area is creating their biggest challenge and it breaks it down into a smaller challenge.

I didn’t realize until I read the post that this is exactly what my husband does. He sits down and says some variation of “show me the hard part.” Sometimes it’s “where are you struggling” or “what’s the hard part,” but he intuitively knows to break the problem down and let the kid talk their way through it first. Often they even figure it out as they walk him through it, which I always assumed was some kind of weird Dad magic.

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It’s not really magic, though — it’s just a way to break down an overwhelming problem into manageable parts. It’s the same thing I do when I have a problem. In fact, it’s the same strategy I use to accomplish any task, from cleaning the house to balancing the budget. I can’t do the whole thing in one go — no one could. So I break it into parts and go through them systematically, until the parts add up to a completed whole.

I can’t wait to try this at the next opportunity (I’m sure it’s bound to happen again), but I won’t limit it to homework. “Show me the hard part” will come in handy for everything from taking down hurricane shutters to cleaning out the fridge, for both the kids and for me.

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