Two-and-a-half months ago, I began tutoring my daughter’s classmate chemistry for two hours a week, alongside my daughter. I, for records, do not believe in tutoring, but my daughter and this young man (both are good students) appear to have a problem with this subject.

And so, we began.

Slowly, I got to know my student.  He is a smart kid, but weak in maths. And chemistry could be scarily mathematical.  The equations, often involving many alphabets in English and Greek, can appear more frightening than real bogeymen.  Try this:


Relate that to the graph printed on the exam paper, and work out the activation energy.

“Uhm aah, uhm aaaah,” said the boy, his head bent low over the paper I had given him.

“Mum, he doesn’t know how to get from k to lnnnnn k,” my daughter said helpfully, having done the conversion, substitution and calculation in her head in half a minute.

I only had two hours a week to perform miracles, and this is hard core, higher level chemistry, not religious studies.

I took a good look at the boy. He is a regular lad. He plays football and he does not have tutoring except with me. I like his attitude. He had showed up at my place once for tutoring when he was badly hungover. In that two-hour period, he had dashed to the loo several times to throw up, but he had valiantly struggled to come back to the table. Even when I offered to cut the lesson short, he insisted on carrying on.

He really wants to do well, even more so than my daughter.

I could see the huge challenge ahead of him in chemistry – he subconsciously freezes up whenever he sees an equation. And that freezing up stops his brain from working effectively.  So more than anything, I had to give him confidence. I could not address his maths weakness in the time I have with him, so I did the next best thing: teach him to help himself.

I told him to tackle the non-mathematical questions in the exam first, and then take a deep breath, think about our jokes, relax, and go on, do it!

“Yeah,” he smiled.

And he did it! He recently scored 73% for a test on a very mathematical topic, having failed the previous test. I was more elated than he, I think.

Why? Because it was a vindication of my mum’s parenting philosophy.  My mum never told me to try harder even when I failed. She just built me up from the ground in her non-critical, smiling way rather than berating or humiliating me. We never even discussed success and  how to get there.  She just focused on what I could do well (ride horses) and celebrated all of me.  It’s just a kinder way of bringing up children, and it is equally successful in getting youngsters there, I think.

Cultivating the success mindset in teenagers:

  1. Start with the assumption that yes they can do it, but it is ultimately THEIR choice;
  2. Make it a partnership – we are in it together, come hell or high water;
  3. Focus on the things they excel in – the boy is the captain of a successful football team – because confidence is so important;
  4. Inculcate a healthy attitude in working towards the goal;
  5. Be fully present. If you put your energy into them, they will respond in kind.
  6. Don’t lose perspective. There is more to life.

Get the right attitude, to gain altitude ❤