Every week, I spend several hours in the waiting area of a large gym where my kids take gymnastics lessons. The room has several large tables where parents and siblings can do their work while waiting for their gymnasts.
Many kids use this time to do their homework and by far the most common subject that I see them working on is math. About half the time, the parents are helping them. The kids rarely look excited but they are generally resigned.
Last week, I witnessed a scene that left me very disturbed. A mom was helping her daughter, who looked to be about 9 or 10, with math homework. The girl would alternate between crying, yelling, or even occasionally hitting the mom. She also kept repeating the following phrases, “I don’t understand this,” “You are wasting my time,” and “I hate you/this.”
The mom was generally much calmer than I would expect someone to be in this situation. Her most common response was, “Sweetie, you just have to memorize that this is the way you do it.” When she was explaining something, all I would hear is, “You have to put this here,” and “You have to write this there.”
At some point, the mom said, “It’s ridiculous that they’re having you do this. I didn’t have to do this sort of thing until college.” I don’t know what this specifically referred to, but later, I did overhear the mom reading a different problem to the daughter and it was definitely not anything beyond standard third grade level.
This all went on for over an hour. There were moments when I was very tempted to come over and offer my help, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it and wasn’t sure that it would be appropriate.
I know that math anxiety exists – I’ve seen it. I’ve also witnessed bad parent/child interactions. But this prolonged scene really staggered my imagination.
And now a few questions for the audience. How common is this? Are there many kids out there crying over math homework for hours? Is this hurting their relationship with parents who are trying really hard but for one reason or another are not able to help them?
And on a more specific note, should I have tried to help somehow in this particular case? Would you have?