Why Some Children Struggle with Math (And What Gifts They Bear)

By John van der Steur - February 12, 2019

One of my favorite activities is to observe someone's personality type in their behavior. Ever since I was introduced to Carl Jung’s polarities of the personality some 30 years ago, I have been drawn to doing this.

Type and behavior are not the same. Behavior is the result of your personality type, applied to the situation you are in and your assessment of this situation by your ego. Herein lies the clue why certain children struggle with math. Let me explain.

When helping people to become aware of their personalities, I often hear, “At home and at work, I have different personalities”. The good news is that you do not have a split personality. Your personality is the same, only the situation and the assessment of it by your ego is different.

When a situation appeals to your dominant function you will feel engaged, excited and curious. And when it appeals to the opposite function (what Jung called the inferior function) you will likely feel bored, overwhelmed, terribly disinterested and probably stressed.

This gives a clue on why certain children struggle with math and others don’t. And as the parent of a 10 and 12 year old, I have noticed how math tutoring is a lucrative business in the city of Austin where we live.

My daughter’s personality exhibits all the traits of a Red Feeling type. She cares about being compassionate, empathic, personal and is oriented towards people and relationships. She cares more than anything about her kittens, her friendships, art, music, dance, and has a real eye (and heart) for when other people (or animals) suffer.

When it comes to doing her math or science homework, she often says, “Papa, this is sooo boring! What use is it to learn this?” She is in 6th grade, and science and math are important and required subjects. Why is this?

In my book, The Power of Polarities, I discuss the dominance of the Blue Thinking function in Western society (North America and Europe). Look at all the technology we have and use, and then compare it to the rest of the world. It becomes obvious.

As a result, our education system is oriented towards the Blue Thinking function and emphasizes cognitive skills that are used to think, read, learn, remember, reason, and solve problems. We are told the future of the economy is in STEM Education: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

But what happens to children with a dominant Red Feeling function? For them, education can be incredibly uninteresting and challenging, and they suffer from self-esteem issues because their specific abilities are typically undervalued.

The frustration of the Red Feeling function with Western education is well expressed by the English author and graphic novelist, Neil Gaiman:

"I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing."

So how to help Red Feeling types overcome this frustration? As Jung said, the first step is always self-awareness: “Be true to yourself. Be true to your type.” This means, find your strengths and use them to adapt to reality, to the society you live in.

There are a few ways I have discovered I can help my daughter cope with her homework and develop self-esteem and self-awareness:

  • We sit together at the kitchen table and make it fun by including things that appeal to her Red Feeling function, e.g. have a kitten sitting on her lap, getting her favorite snack or drink, connecting with her on personal level, allow her to share her feelings or stories about her day.

  • I make her aware of her personality preferences, her gifts and talents, and how they can differ from others. What is interesting is that 12-year-old children generally understand personality type, they have been observing themselves and other children and have noticed differences. The framework I provide just structures that awareness.

  • Assuring her she can do this if she gives it energy and focus.

  • Taking one small baby step at a time. If she looks at all her homework, she becomes overwhelmed, but if we focus on just the first step, she is fine.

And I hope to discover more ways. Perhaps you have a tip that I could share in my next newsletter. All I can say is that as a parent, it is of enormous value to know my own personality type, and how it is different from others, including my children.

But that is not all, awareness of your gifts brings you in your power. Red Feeling types contribute to society in some awesome ways. The list is endless, but here are some examples:

  • My sister is a Red Feeling type and she became a medical doctor. What a treat it is for a patient to have a doctor who is so naturally compassionate, insightful and empathic.

  • My friends at Austin Classical Guitar use their Red Feeling function to help children connect with themselves and others through musical experiences of deep personal significance.

  • Red Feeling types make great teachers for children in our schools.

  • In teams, they are the ultimate team players, the glue that holds the team together!

  • My former business partner was a Red Feeling type and he could connect with our clients in ways I couldn’t. Our clients loved him and he was the glue between our clients and our business.

  • And my daughter… well, she has decided she wants to become a veterinarian!

I am passionate about helping people become aware of and use their personality to serve their life’s purpose. I have not developed a type indicator for children, but for adults I have, and you can find it here. Once you understand your own type, you will start to recognize the type of others, including your children!