How I Mentored, Counselled and Coached my Son for a Math Competition

My younger son, Harshith, is now getting into his high school (9th Grade). I am a true believer that building self-learning capability in kids is very important. I kept encouraging him to watch several learning videos (Khan Academy) and read books etc. He did some of them but there was no focus. I realized that having a goal is very important and asked Harshith what he wants to achieve in next year or two. He is fond of maths and so decided to go for a prestigious competitive exam in math. 

This exam is way harder for his grade level. As a preparation, he started solving problem sets from previous exams. These problem sets have 15 problems to solve and the difficulty of the problems increase as they go higher in numbers .i.e, 1st problem is easier and 15th is the hardest. He also has a feeling that this exam is way above his ability.

I asked him to follow these guidelines (Mentoring):

  1. If he could solve the problem, still look at the solution and see if there are other ways of solving the problem. Think for a minute what new things he learned and how can he use that information next time.
  2. If he couldn’t solve the problem, look at the solution. If he could understand the solution, think about what is he missing to solve such problems in the future. If he didn’t understand the solution, there is a gap in the knowledge.
  3. If there is a concept or a theorem he doesn’t know to solve such problems, learn the same until he is confident.

Harshith had pretty good progress following these guidelines. Generally, he takes a new set and start from problem 1 and work sequentially and was able to solve up to 6th or 7th. I asked him why can’t he try in the higher numbered and his response was that it is impossible for him. He has a limiting belief that he won’t be able to solve higher numbered problems. One day I gave him a problem and told that it is the 5th problem from a problem set. In fact, it was the 12th problem. It was difficult but he could solve it. I told him the truth and he was pleasantly surprised. Then he started trying the difficult ones and was able to solve a few of them. (Therapy or Counselling)

Then I asked him a question “How do you feel about higher numbered problems?” He started reflecting “Yeah, they are harder but not impossible. Now I am feeling more confident that I could solve some of them. It seems I am comfortable with geometry and number theory. However, I need to work more on probability and algebra”. This new awareness is helping him focus on what his problem areas are. (Coaching)

Mentoring is guiding, Counselling is therapy and Coaching is creating awareness with powerful questioning. Though there is some overlap, they are different competencies and have different application. 

Whether Harshith cracks the exam or not is secondary. What is more important is building the capability so that he can eventually achieve not just this goal, but any such goals. 

“Success is not the destination, it is the journey!”

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