How often do you hear, “That’s too hard!”? If you don’t hear it often, you probably aren’t dealing with this problem, but if your child says it all the time, he or she may be stuck in the too hard mentality.
My Child Says, “That’s Too Hard” to Everything!
What Do I Do?
There are two steps to this process. First, you need to figure out why the child is saying it. Then, we can talk about strategies for dealing with it.
Is It Really Too Hard?
Kids say that for all kinds of reasons. Here are some of the most common ones in my experience:
- It really is too hard, and the student has no idea how to do it. This is usually the case when the child is missing foundation skills that are absolutely necessary for understanding how to complete the problems.
- The student hasn’t looked at the question yet, just the format. In most cases, this child has no problem with the activity once he or she actually reads the directions and tries it.
- It’s a topic the child doesn’t like. Students who dislike English or science or history often have an automatic response of “That’s too hard!” to assignments in the areas they don’t like.
- He or she is in a bad mood. Sometimes, it’s just the wrong time for doing homework, and anything the child looks at is going to be “too hard.”
- The activity is challenging (A.K.A. outside the child’s comfort zone). Kids can be really intimidated by attempting new types of challenges if they’re afraid of failure or if they’re not used to trying things that make them think in new ways.
Tips for Defeating the Too Hard Mentality
Once you know why your child is complaining about the difficulty, there are many different strategies that you can use. The only option that doesn’t have particular tactics is if the student hasn’t read the question yet – that reason generally resolves itself.
Tactics for If the Topic Is Too Hard
Review the Basics
When children normally do well, they may just need a quick review. Going over foundation skills needed to do the problem can help them remember things they haven’t done in a while.
Realizing that they do know how to complete parts of the problem can make the entire problem less intimidating.
Talk to the Child’s Teacher
If reviewing foundation skills doesn’t help, there may be a bigger problem. Maybe, the child never got a firm grip on some of those skills and needs to work on them some more before coming back to new problems.
The best way to check on this is to talk to your child’s teacher. He or she should know how the child has done overall and can help you come up with a plan.
If the Child Is in a Bad Mood, Take a Break
I know it’s not always an option, but forcing a grumpy child to work will never end well. If there’s time for the child to take a break and cool off a little, that’s generally for the best. If not, well, I’m afraid the child saying, “That’s too hard” may be the highlight of the experience.
Options If It’s an Unpopular Topic or a Challenge
Either a challenging question or a topic the child doesn’t like can have a similar effect – both can make the child feel uncertain and uncomfortable. The tactics below can help increase the child’s confidence and comfort level. Even better, they can be helpful with most situations that have that effect!
Think about the process you use to solve a problem. Usually, that process involves trying different strategies until one works, but your child may not know those strategies yet. Learning them is part of learning critical thinking.
By giving the child a tactic to try, you aren’t directly giving him or her the answer (a big no-no). Instead, you’re teaching your child how to problem solve.
Break the Challenge into Parts
Before you can say it, yes, breaking the challenge down into parts is one of the strategies you could give your child in the first tactic. If the kid isn’t quite ready to use those strategies alone, however, helping the child break the problem down is the next step in helping.
After all, knowing what the strategy is isn’t enough without knowing how to use it. Just be sure to give the child a chance to try it alone first before walking him or her through it.
Be Patient and Calm
The student is already feeling uncertain and uncomfortable. That’s a mere hop and a skip away from feeling stressed and upset. And the best way to keep them calm is for you to stay calm. Patiently working with your child shows that you care and also emphasizes the importance of trying challenges – and we all want children to know that!
Emphasize Effort – Not Intelligence
Studies have shown that when children associate success with being smart, they become afraid of failure. When that happens, they avoid trying challenges. Anything unknown – anything that the child may not be able to do – becomes scary when failure is scary.
In other words, overemphasizing a child’s failure or saying “You’re so smart!” when a child succeeds can make the child afraid to try new things. Especially if the child honestly tried his or her best and failed to succeed anyway or did not try hard and succeeded.
That’s why it’s important to emphasize effort over smarts. And to focus on how to improve rather than whether or not the child failed.
Do More Challenges
When you casually embrace challenges as a growth opportunity, your child will follow. And if you want your child to be comfortable with challenges, they need to be a normal aspect of family life, not a rare school assignment.
This could mean doing puzzles, playing brain games, or enrolling your child in an enrichment program. All of those methods can help a child think of a challenge as a growth opportunity instead of something intimidating and scary.
What helps your child defeat the “too hard mentality”? What tactic did we miss?
Author: Elizabeth F., Writer and Teacher at A Grade Ahead
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