You’re sitting next to your son while he’s working a problem. His head is bowed over the paper and he’s in the zone. He’s finally getting it! But then….you see him make a simple math mistake. Instantly and with lightning speed, you intervene.

“Oops! What’s 9 x 7?” And you poke your pointer finger on his paper. (Imagine your boss doing that….)

And like that, he’s lost his concentration. He snaps out of his trance and erases what he was doing with angry digs of the eraser that rip at the paper. Now he’s frustrated with himself, frustrated with you, and he is OVER.IT.

Other than the simple math error, he was doing everything correctly. His work was tidy, he was showing his work, etc. So, why did you butt in? What are you afraid of? That your child will fall down and have to pick himself up?

Letting a child make mistakes is important to the math process as a whole. Every math problem has a check step. You know this because teachers and parents are always telling kids to check their work. *If you demand perfection at every step of the process, there is no reason to check the work at the end!* Your kids’ answers will always be correct because you, in your overbearing annoying-ness, have made it so. Why would they want to correct a problem that they know is (painfully) correct?

There is something very cathartic about checking work. When the answer works, it feels great and kids are motivated. But when the answer doesn’t work…guess what? Most of the time, kids will look back over their work and try to find the problem. And, when they see that they just messed up 9 x 7, they can make the correction without your help. They may not admit it, they may not jump for joy, but there’s satisfaction in the process.

If your child refuses to check his work, it’s probably because he’s sick of being micromanaged! If you’re saying, “oops!” and, “uh-oh…” and, “hmmm…” every single time your child puts his pencil to the paper, he’s going to be counting the milliseconds until you leave. And I guarantee he won’t check his work.

Here’s a visual: You’re trying a new recipe that you saw on YouTube. You watched it once and you think you can do it. You want to try it out! But when you start cooking, a bossy chef suddenly appears in your kitchen and watches your every move. He corrects you. He embarrasses you. He asks questions. He makes you feel like you can’t boil water independently. He’s condescending. You can’t relax. You’re frustrated that he ruined the process, and you give up on the recipe…anything to get out of the kitchen!

The solution is to strike a deal, and his will look different for each family. With my son, we agree that I will not hover while he does his work. (Very hard for a math tutor!) If he wants help, he is to be respectful while I work with him. When he is done with his work, he is required to check three problems. If he has all three correct, he’s done with his homework! If he misses any, he needs to find and correct the errors; he can’t just copy the correct answer from the key. When those first three problems are corrected, he chooses two more to check. If he misses either of those, he promises to seek help at school the next day. Even though I know I can help him with the lesson, it’s not my job. He needs to advocate for himself at school and find clarification.

After five problem corrections, I can gauge if my son is struggling with a lesson. Let’s say a homework set has 15 problems. If my son checks five of those problems and only misses one, then statistically he has 12 out of 15 correct. That’s 80%. I’ll take it.

The goal we’ve set for my son is to get a B in Algebra. That’s realistic for our family. You may have different expectations, but be sure those expectations are realistic.