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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  1. 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!

  2. 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!

  3. 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

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. Sassy Apple says:

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

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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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