What is a family?

Well, that’s a pretty deep question!! But here at Math Tutor Denver, we spend a lot of time thinking about deep questions like this. We want to understand family dynamics from every possible angle—and think about exactly how tutoring and education fits in. 

One of our favorite theories is the Family Systems theory. What does this mean? It’s a psychological framework for thinking about families as dynamic ever-changing systems. Families are not static. Members within a family do not function independently. Each one effects the other and relates to the whole. Families are composed of varying and changing emotional demands. Each member occupies a different position and therefore has different expectations and demands placed upon them. We might not think about it that much, but every family is composed of different hierarchies, coalitions, and loyalties. There are always both positive and negative feedback loops which have the potential to hinder change or cause breakdowns. 

Further complicating things, families are not closed-systems isolated from the world. To the contrary, families are very much open-systems which interact with the given environment extensively. 

The fact that families are indeed systems is helpful to our general framework for understanding how families work. When we think of families as complex systems, we begin to see how complications and arguments can arise and are almost inevitable. Families consist of a hierarchy and intra-group localities and relationships.

why it’s so hard to teach your kid math

It’s so difficult to teach math to your own children precisely because families are so complex. When you also assume the role of teacher, you are adding another stress and strain onto an already complex set of relationships. Teaching changes the hierarchy and loyalty dynamics within the family. Arguments are more likely to break out. And any hope for a calm and rational teaching session quickly goes out the window. 

Someone might make a snide or rude comment, causing tensions to flare. 

Interestingly, one reason teaching your kids is so hard is managing your own anxiety about it all! Parents are, of course, incredibly invested in their children’s success and grades in math. They really care. They most likely care even more than the student! And that is never a good scenario. As parents, our own sense of self worth is often wrapped up in the success or failures of our children. Our children become an extension of us. We have invested so much time and money and emotion into raising them. When teaching their own kids, parents are normally quick to start worrying about them. Why can’t they understand this stuff? It’s pretty simple…. will they never be smart at math? Will they never get into a good college? Will they become a drop-out? 

It’s easy for our mind to go down rabbit-holes like this—endlessly worrying about our kids. 

Additionally, everything is heightened. Even when parents say seemingly neutral phrases, your own kids might take them the wrong way. This is especially likely when studying math and their tensions are already elevated. For example, maybe the parent simply says: that’s not right, try it like this. Well, that phrase might have just caused a temper-tantrum! Your child might react very emotionally to this! What? HERE! YOU TRY IT!! I QUIT. FU** this sh**.

Stress leads to poor learning gains

It doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to understand that heightened levels of stress might not be the most conducive thing for learning. Frustration and overwhelm are not helpful. Crying won’t help us solve any math problems. Stressful learning situations can active the amygdala. This is one of the “stress-centers” of the brain. It becomes active when students are stressed and anxious or feeling as though they may never succeed at math. When the amygdala is overactive it becomes difficult for information to be correctly processed and stored. Stress has therefore been said to act as a sort of “filter” or “barrier,” preventing students from correctly incorporating new information into their mental schemas of the world. 

kids can be very strong-willed

Sadly, sometimes we wonder where our kids got it from! How did they become so stubborn? We ask. Well, it’s actually pretty natural within families. Kids are less likely to be stubborn, act out, or refuse to complete work when they are at school. Peer pressure and social structures within schools ensure that kids will be more likely to comply and complete their work. That is one benefit of schools or of having outside expert help. Your kid is much less likely to be stubborn and refuse to comply with a math tutor. Especially if the tutor has built a strong rapport with the student. 

parents need to save & Build their influence for the times when it matters the most

It’s very unproductive for parents to waste their precious influence and potentially harm their relationship with their kids over a few algebra worksheets and an argument about math class. Parents should save and build their family influence. Parents need to have a good relationship with their kids so that they can keep an open dialogue and learn about what is really going on in their kids life. Many kids don’t like to tell their parents the real inside scoop of what’s happening in their lives because the relationship hasn’t been properly maintained. And parents also risk losing their influence during critical moments in the important teenage years. There will normally be 1-3 super important moments during the teen years, where a simple comment or piece of advice could drastically change the course of your kid’s life. But you need to be present to win. You need to have that relationship-capital saved up, stored, and ready. 

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