How children fail and how they succeed: Building effective and enjoyable learning


‘I have tried so hard, and have given up. My husband is much more patient than me, but even he struggles to engage our son for more than five minutes.’ 

This is an all-too-familiar story in early conversations with new clients. The unspoken questions behind the words go something like: 

‘How will you be able to coach my son online when you haven’t met him in person?’ 

‘How will you hold his attention when we haven’t been able to?’

My new 9-year-old client – let’s call him Jack – is already fidgeting. His eyes are flitting from side to side, and I see he does indeed have difficulty staying focused. His parents had explained that his attentional problems are causing him to fall behind at school, especially in Maths, and this has worsened since the schools closed in March. 

They referred to his problem as motivational: ‘He is a typical boy, he just wants to play’. Their boy clearly saw himself as being good at sports and art, and seemed to have decided that Maths and English were not really ‘his thing’.

So what’s going on?

From my practice, I know Jack’s belief may have many underlying causes. Many parents assume the ‘learning gap’ is on a cognitive level: something their child missed at school or is ‘a bit slow’. However, according to the concept of self-regulation, reasons for not paying attention could be biological, emotional or social, or a combination of factors. In his book ‘Self-Reg’, Dr Stuart Shanker encourages the reader to look at all possible underlying causes and strengthen ‘the roots of cognition’. To explore a problem sufficiently, we need to create a safe space to pause and give the child the chance to reset his or her energy and change their self-image as a student.

The most enjoyable way to achieve this during the tutoring coaching session is to make the learning as much fun as possible. Interest-led projects, real-life scenarios, educational games, movement, and art can all form part of this approach. While there are other ways to address the underlying problems, in Jack’s case this approach alone was enough to produce a significant shift.

Self Esteem & Confidence in Learning

The safe and non-judgemental environment I created for Jack gave him not only the chance to pause and identify his own stressors or misconceptions about learning, but – and this was key – it created trust and a relaxed space to explore his strengths. As Jack started believing in himself and his abilities, he developed an attitude conducive to learning. He was pleased with his work, knowing he had put in the maximum effort possible.

He became a very enthusiastic student. His mum summed it up by saying: 

‘He is enjoying your lessons a lot. His confidence has increased massively in such a short time. I would never have thought it possible. It’s really amazing.’

My Tutoring Method

During my work with Jack, I followed my programme Building Blocks for Effective Learning, using a framework that:

  • Explores self-image and attitude to learning
  • Addresses hidden fears associated with failure, using creative techniques, as mentioned above, while carefully selecting appropriate learning objectives
  • Identifies motivation factors and strengths
  • Provides a strong foundation in both Maths and English
  • Finds the way to impart knowledge and make it enjoyable, creative and fun
  • Explores barriers to learning and the foundation for cognitive readiness. 

For more information about tutoring and Out of the Box, see Self-Esteem and Confidence Building and National Curriculum Subjects for ages 4 to 16. Or call 07786 628820 to discuss your child’s learning needs.


Katerina Latalova MSc, MA, QTS

Director, Out of the Box Teaching    

Teacher and Specialist Private Tutor

Promoting creativity, well-being and confidence

Founder of the Building Blocks for Effective Learning approach