When your child is struggling, navigating the “I’m not smart enough” rapids

The kids are learning money in school. Well, Victor is. For Oliver, money represents a major roadblock.

His teacher told me that math is not his strong suit. He loves to buy things, so I thought money would come naturally. I thought wrong.

The first night I pulled out the coins we both ended up in tears. He couldn’t remember which was the dime, nickel, or quarter to save his life.

“If it’s the smallest,” I said, “It’s a dime, the biggest is a quarter and the nickel is in between.” Then I held up the dime. “This is the smallest, what is it?”

“A quarter.”

He just couldn’t get it. I tried every type of learning method I could think of and nothing. Wrong more than 50% of the time.

“I can’t do it,” he said. “It’s too hard. I’m not smart enough.”

Those words. Those 4 words, I’m not smart enough, pierce your heart with an icicle. Because seeing your child struggle is torture. Because seeing him doubt himself is worse. And because, for an instant, part of you wonders if he will ever get it and you are so deeply ashamed of yourself for doubting him.

I looked him squarely in the eye.

“You know the name of every single Pokémon, their powers, if they are grass, water, air, or fire type, and what they evolve to,” I fired back. “Don’t you tell me you can’t learn.”

I mean seriously, this kid has a freaking Ph.D. in the biological classification system of Pokémon. That’s biology, physiology, and evolution (yeah, it’s make believe, so what, those are difficult concepts). It is true that he might not have any natural mathematical ability, but knowing all those damned Pokémon means he can learn. It just took practice and interest.

Victor as the Unknown Pokémon, Oliver as his beloved Pikachu

He studies Pokémom day in and day out. Pours over his Pokédex, watches shows, reads the Pokémon dictionary (there are two in case you are wondering), and spends hours drawing them and planning battles.

So we talk about this. That if he knows the difference between Pikachu and Turtwig, he can learn the difference between a dime and a quarter.

And so ever day we practice the coins, just naming them, for 5 minutes. Today he correctly identified all the change in my pocket. Tomorrow, we will start working on the number of pennies in a nickel.

It’s no gym battle, but it’s a start.

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One Response to When your child is struggling, navigating the “I’m not smart enough” rapids

  1. Courtney says:

    It sounds like your boys are just a bit older than my twins, who are 23-weekers born in 2006. I just found your site (details on how I found you are below) and am enjoying catching up on your posts. I suspect my children are older than the age when The Preemie Primer would be useful … what do you think? I’m particularly looking for a book about the second five years of a preemie’s life. Have you seen anything like that? I subscribe to several online groups with parents of school-aged preemies and have learned a lot from them, but I really prefer to gather this sort of information from a book.

    I found your book and, then, your site, after hearing you interviewed on several podcasts. I had searched for “preemie” on itunes and your interviews were about half the results! If you aren’t already in touch with Dr. Mike on PediaCast, I think he should interview you for a future show. I’ll send him a message telling him the same thing. And while I’m sending recommendations, I think it would be good if you mentioned the free gifts to give preemie parents during your interview. I’ll definitely be keeping those in mind next time someone asks me what to give a new preemie parent.

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