It’s hard right now.

It’s hard right now.

We recently started tutoring for one of my kids.

Once a month or so, Will and I get to sit in on part of the session. It’s my child’s opportunity to show off, and the tutor’s opportunity to do a little bragging on their progress together.

We had one of these check-in meetings last week. While we were talking, the tutor made an offhand comment to my kid that I immediately folded into my everyday vocabulary.

The tutor was running my child through a numbers exercise that was pretty challenging. (As in, I had a hard time keeping up.) After my kid stumbled through the first column of numbers, the tutor asked if they could try the next harder column together.

My kid said, “I think that’s too hard.” No whining, no complaining: just a simple statement of fact. I wasn’t bothered by it.

But the tutor reflexively fired back with, “It’s too hard right now.

math is boring

Then he went on to explain that as my child worked hard at building skills, that column wouldn’t be hard anymore. They would learn how to do it, together. It’s hard today, but it won’t stay that way.

Before we left that day, the tutor pulled me aside for a second. He quickly explained how important it was for kids to approach their work with a growth mindset. They need to believe in their core that they can get better: that exercises that are near-impossible today will be possible tomorrow, if they practice.

I make my students do hard things, he said, but those hard things don’t stay hard. With lots of practice, those hard things won’t be impossible—they’ll become a stimulating and completely doable challenge. 

I never tell my kids that the thing they’re struggling with—be it tying their shoes, or fractions, or catching a softball—is easy. When they complain about things being hard, I don’t argue with them. But I’d never realized how simple it could be to sneak a growth mindset into our conversations about their struggles. It’s hard is fact, it’s hard right now is hope.

It might sound like we’re just quibbling over vocabulary, but those with growth mindsets (as opposed to fixed mindsets) go further in life, and enjoy the process more, regardless of age. And kids with hope don’t cry over math.

This week, that’s enough for me.

P.S. All the world’s parenting advice can be distilled to two simple rules, and a wonderful book about the growth mindset.

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79 comments

  1. Suzanne says:

    This is one of those statements I can use right now. There is a lot to be said for the nuance of language. Leaving the door open for things getting easier with time, effort and practice is a hopeful message.

    Ps. Traveling through the pages you linked to I read about your kids’ interests in the titanic, sewing and art. What are their messes right now?

  2. Love this! I am continually trying to demonstrate a growth mindset and with my kids, I often say “when something is hard, that means your brain is expanding”. Loved Dweck’s book. It’s one of those that should be reread regularly.

  3. Jessica C says:

    This is great advice to remember not only for teachers, but I can see ways to apply it to my job as a nurse. Sometimes it seems to my patients that life will be “normal” again and that all simple tasks will remain impossible. I really like the thought of reminding them, “It’s hard right now, but we’re working to help you relearn, heal, and feel much better.”

    Great post – thanks for sharing! 🙂

  4. Tim says:

    That happens to me at work, too. I start a new assignment and wonder how I’m ever going to get it right. Then after about 6 months I wonder what I was ever worried about. Too hard right now doesn’t mean it’s too hard, just that I’ll get better at it.

  5. Karen H. says:

    Words of wisdom – bookmarked this post as a reminder for my kiddo’s (and me), who both struggle with math. Btw, kudos to you – loved seeing you and your reading challenge mentioned on Parnassus Books post today:)

  6. That’s truth right there. It is true about exercising. Last Monday I started interval training. I ran/walked a very slow 2 miles. Today I did 3 miles-faster, longer. That’s measurable progress. I think this holds true in most all of life. It is true about school work and learning skills. It is true about life skills. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. Whitney Keys says:

    I teach at a very small school (my students use the same Math curriculum as yours by the looks of it!) and my 3rd graders have been recognizing that things are getting harder for them but they don’t seem to be as hard for the 2nd graders. This post is such a good reminder! It sounds like you have a great tutor.

  8. Ana says:

    Yes, so true! I try to say this to my kids, too, but its nice to have a reminder. I usually say “if its hard, it means you’re learning & your brain is growing/your body is getting stronger”. (they are obsessed with growing & being stronger so this always helps motivate them!)

  9. I love this! My son’s teacher recommended the book Mindset: the New Psychology of Success to me. My son has a fixed mindset apparently. (I think I do too.) I haven’t read it yet, but I really need to. Thanks for the reminder and the encouragement with this post.

  10. Marie says:

    I just had this same conversation with my son about his piano lesson! He claimed the fingering he’d learned that night was too hard, and I told him a week from now it wouldn’t be, so long as he practiced it every day. I knew this only because until recently, *I* used to tell my piano teacher I couldn’t play certain chords because my hands were too small, and he would just say, “Yes, you can. Just do it every day.” The first few times I privately fumed a little–easy for him to say; his hands are twice my size; how am I going to stretch that far, etc. But, with practice, it came. Sometimes when I play those pieces from a month or two back, I’m surprised all over again at how easily my hand slips into position.

    Your child’s tutor sounds wonderful!

  11. Breanne says:

    This is such a good mantra for life. I like the growth mindset and remembering that everything is hard at first. Especially true for me right with all the adjustments that come with having a new baby in the house.

  12. Samantha D says:

    This is great for life, too. We go through hard seasons but things don’t stay hard forever. It may be a personal struggle, a mental struggle, a physical struggle, etc. but when we are intentional in working through that struggle things won’t always stay hard. There is always hope.

  13. Kelly says:

    How fantastic! I’ve reminded them that the living is in the practice and tried to loop back to examples of things that used to be hard that they find no difficulty with now, but the acknowledgment is huge! Acknowledge it is hard. Acknowledge it is frustrating. Acknowledge that today may not be the best day to tackle this.

    But some day, it will. Someday it won’t be hard. Someday the challenge is surmountable. Thank you for your reflections!

  14. Kelty says:

    Love this! We’ve been dealing with a lot of “I can’t!!!” and “It’s too hard!!!” And I’ve struggled with a good answer that’s not just annoyed (me) and frustrating (to them.) I love the hopeful tone that acknowledges that (fill in the blank) IS hard for them right now. It’s easy as adults to forget that. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Jill Foley says:

    As a violin student and teacher, I’ve heard the over-used phrase “Practice makes perfect”. A couple years ago I heard someone say “Practice makes easy” and I loved it. I went out and bought an easy button from Staples, and my students and kids love it when I pull it out. When I see something is hard for them, we recognize it and then practice it until it’s easy. As soon as they start getting it…we push the button which responds with “that was easy”. : )

  16. Kate says:

    I needed this today! My middle child is struggling with math so much right now. She’s in first grade and it was on her new years resolution to “try my best at math” but every night it is a struggle. Thank you so much for sharing

  17. Dana says:

    Great post!

    When I was a teacher I would tell my students that of course certain things were hard at first, but that I had confidence that they could do hard things or I would not ask them to do it.

    I need to remind myself of that now : ) I am slowly and with some frustration learning the technology to build and launch my blog. It is a huge learning curve for me and it IS hard right now…but it won’t always be.

    Thanks, Anne for a timely post and a reminder!
    We can all do hard things one step at a time!

  18. Allison says:

    Anne, this post was much needed today. My beloved mother-in-law passed away on Sunday, and my husband is having surgery next week. Services for his mom are at the end of the month. Needless to say, it IS hard right now. I’m thankful I read this today, because I am reminded that life will get easier again. Blessings.

  19. Michelle says:

    Tears are pooling in my eyes as I read this! Something so simple, but so profound. I’ve been trying to convey this message to my son who has a tendency to want to give up easily. In a similar refrain I say, “Things get easier the more you practice.”

    I’m going to take my own advice and recognize that the Act of Practicing Itself and Not Giving Up and Doing Hard Things will get easier for him, too – not just that specific tasks will get easier, but sticking with it will get easier. That sounds so meta, but the paradigm shift gives me great peace. 🙂 So thanks for this post.

  20. Sarah R says:

    I’m so thankful to you and your child for sharing this with us. This is a game-changer.

    I used to find math really hard in the elementary school ages. Then, in middle school, something clicked and I loved math! In high school and college, I took advanced math classes and now I use math everyday in my job as a financial analysis. So please tell your child that there is definitely hope! He/she is also very creative – I love the poem and drawing!

  21. Amber says:

    I was a teacher at a school that really emphasized growth mindset. It’s an incredibly powerful concept. The coolest thing I think is that it’s not just positive thinking – it’s science! Great post.

    • Cheryl H. says:

      Great article. Kids know when praise is genuine and when it’s a load of manure, too, which is another reason not to heap it on with a shovel. I remember, growing up, there was a school counselor who believed in the whole ‘You are very special and unique!’ way of thinking and would offer lots of praise and affirmation, and I did a lot of mental eye-rolling because I knew full well I had limitations and faults. I saw my quiz and classwork grades, and then there were all the calls home to my parents…but that’s a whole other discussion. xp Honesty is essential. Blow too much smoke in a kid’s (or an adult’s) ear and they won’t believe you when you are honest.

  22. Phaedra says:

    I’ve read Mindset. My daughter’s school/teachers have been using these concepts in their classrooms for a couple of years and I love it! That being said, I’m always reminded of my mom saying to me, ‘this, too, shall pass’ and I feel like the two ideas are intertwined. It’s been my life motto to remember that everything is mutable and that it won’t always be like it is right now. That applies to all of us – whether learning new skills at school or work or making family or relationship decisions. Sometimes just reminding myself that working on new skills, looking with a new perspective, adding new information little by little will allow me to tackle just about anything. Life is all about Doing Hard Things and the growth mindset really has helped us move through things without giving up prematurely. So happy to hear that this is clicking in for your child!

  23. This is such a great reminder for adults and children. I am going to begin volunteering in an after school tutoring program today and I will remember to use this encouraging phrase. Perfect timing! It also applies to myself as I struggle to begin my own blog about books for kids, Redcanoereader.com. I need to remember it WILL get easier!

  24. Oh, man, I have a child who completely shuts down at any hint of math-related work. This is exactly what I need to remind my kid – math facts were “impossible” at one point, but look how easily they roll off your tongue now. Such a good perspective!

  25. Shandy says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I feel like those 2 words could be so powerful for my daughter, and even for me! I’m excited to start using this!

  26. Dulcimer says:

    Is that math worksheet from one of your kids? Or did you somehow sneak into my house and snap a photo of MY kid’s worksheet? Thanks for the fresh perspective. You better believe I’m gonna pull that line out tomorrow morning at 8:45am. #elementarymathangst

  27. Libby says:

    This reminds me of my college freshman adviser, whom I also had for a class designed to teach freshmen reading, writing, and presentation skills (about the First Ladies too! Best class ever!) I was panicking in her office one day about my struggles with the 10 page term paper and said “If I can’t write a ten page paper about other people’s research, how am I ever going to write a longer senior research project about my own research?!” My adviser replied “It’s not your job to be ready to do a senior research project as a freshman. It’s your job to do your best work on this paper, and in all your classes between now and senior year and trust that we, your professors, will have done our jobs and prepared you to do the senior research project when that time comes.” Possibly the best advice I got through all of college!

  28. Wow! I really needed this. We have been having struggles with hand writing and my son as started to develop the mindset of ‘why bother trying because I know it too hard’ and this has been frustrating for both of us. I cant wait to use this method of growth with him.

  29. Charlotte says:

    Thank you so much for this post, Anne. I’m in the new-baby fog and also have a three-year-old. Figuring out my life with two kids has been incredibly challenging for me. This message that what I’m doing is really hard right now is so encouraging. Sure parenting will never not be hard, but I won’t always feel like I’m drowning. Thanks for this lifeline–I needed it today.

  30. Sassy Apple says:

    “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” Frederick Douglass
    Quote on my bulletin board for several years 🙂

  31. Clara says:

    This is extremely important. I try to remind myself everytime I am doing something new and confusing that someday it will come up (more) naturally and it’s something I noticed studying math, actually. This idea is key to not give up on math and end up hating it.

  32. As a high school math teacher, I love this article! As much as I want my students to learn the needed math skills, I’m even more passionate about them finding confidence and perseverance in the face of difficult tasks. Great article!

  33. Cheryl H. says:

    I love this tutor. However you found them, your child is in the right hands. This advice needs to be written down, printed out, and given to every teacher of every age level to hang in their classroom. College professors need to give this to their students.

    • Cheryl H. says:

      If your child is a girl and is still having trouble come middle school, Danica McKellar, who played Winnie on ‘The Wonder Years’, got her PhD in maths and has written great books on pre-algebra, algebra, and geometry to help teens succeed in math. All the books are aimed at girls. Her first one is about math in general the aim is to encourage girls to see that math isn’t dry and boring and ugh, and that it isn’t impossible to understand. I think it would do boys a lot of good to read a book that talks about female mathematicians and other strong female figures, so, by all means, give that to a son. 😉 Any teenage boy who’s fine with using Danica McKellar’s math help books, go for it. Just wanted to mention they’re aimed at girls fwiw.

  34. Dorothy K. says:

    Anne, Thank you so much for sharing this information. Because I work in public education, some of the things which were mentioned in the article about the growth mindset and it’s imitation are occurrences I see everyday at work. This is so inspiring for anyone who desires to promote a “love of learning” in children. Also, my younger son struggled to fit the traditional academic mold, but had so much learning potential and fortunately we found an educational therapist who invested time and effort to help him exercise learning muscles. She changed our family’s life forever and we’ll continue to be grateful for her insight and inspiration each day.

  35. Hannah Beth Reid says:

    Thank you for sharing this great idea! I was able to use this phrase right away with my little girl this morning who was discouraged by her phonics lesson.

  36. Liza says:

    Oh, I so needed to read this! My 9 year old can’t ride a bike yet and he’s never thought he could do it…”it’s too hard”. I’ve told him that yes, it’s hard, but if he works hard, he’ll learn. And it IS harder for him because the part of the ear that controls balance is not fully formed (he’s completely deaf in one ear because of it). Just this week, he decided that he really needs to learn. By changing his mindset, he’s already succeeding! And I can see how adding “right now” to our vocabulary will help change that mindset!

  37. Amy says:

    It sounds a lot like the phrase I use when I hear “I can’t do it.” I gently reply back, “You just can’t do it YET.” Same principle. We try to praise the process, not just the product.

  38. Tracy G says:

    This is possibly the best thing I’ve read online in a very long time. What wise words, but yet so simple too. Perfect for my 6th grader who also dislikes math and my 2nd grader who is intimidated by a pictureless chapter book.

  39. Kandy says:

    I love this! My family lives overseas, and I remember that during our cross cultural and language training before moving to the field, one of our class mates complained that she couldn’t do a particular exercise because it was too difficult, to which one of our instructors said, “You can’t do it YET! Always remember how important that ‘yet’ is and you’ll go much further.” Great advice that my kids, as well as my husband and I, have benefitted from over and over again.

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