This question recently came up in correspondence with a parent, and I answered it as follows:
I want to ask your opinion. I have a twelve year old son who is taking seventh grade algebra. He’s doing alright (he has a B), and like any kid goes through periods of understanding and then not quite understanding certain chapters. Often when we work together he understands better. But one thing I don’t understand is that sometimes he gets frustrated, and when I try harder to explain he gets defensive and shuts down. I hate those moments, and feel like I should back off when it happens, but then I also realize that he does need help to guide him through the lesson. So I try to push, which only makes things more difficult, and he just quits trying. I think he would benefit from having a tutor who could meet with him once every week or so to guide him and to help maintain his level of confidence. I want him to love and enjoy math in general and I think he wants that also. Please let me know what you think.
It is good to hear from you, and I appreciate you asking for my opinion. I honor and respect the fact that you are making the effort to help your son understand and appreciate math, not just by encouraging him but by actually getting your hands messy and working alongside him. This is something that not many parents have the desire, let alone the ability, to do.
I feel this may seem rather blunt, but the sincerity of your question calls for nothing less than a completely authentic response. In my experience it is very difficult for most parents to be a tutor for their kids, even if they are willing and able. The reason is that virtually all parent-child relationships build up a significant amount of emotional charge over the years that gets in the way of effective learning. It is almost inevitable that the tutoring experience becomes just another battleground in the ongoing power struggle between parent and child, and devolves into a battle of wills. I do not believe that this is an innate and unavoidable aspect of parent-child relationships, but it is virtually universal within the cultural milieu which we inhabit. I have witnessed this not only in tutoring but also in martial arts (another of my passions) and in other areas where well-intentioned parents try to take on the role of a mentor for their child.
So the experience you describe in trying to tutor your son is understandable to me. Children want to establish their autonomy from their parents, and often resist being cast into roles where they feel inferior, regardless of their actual level of competence. At the same time parents can’t help but come from a place of authority, regardless of the benevolence of their intentions. The good news is that hiring a tutor can resolve this stalemate by satisfying both the parent’s need for reassurance and the child’s need for guidance, allowing both of you to focus on the areas of your relationship that are mutually rewarding.
I invite you to take a look at my website to learn more about my services. I have written many articles on my blog, and I think this one in particular might interest you: ‘When Should You Hire A Tutor?’ If you’d like to work with me then please get in touch and I will be happy to help your son.