Often, children do just fine with mathematics until they encounter a concept that they don’t have enough time to master. When the class moves on and they’re left behind, they become confused and anxious. Eventually they may tell themselves, “I’m just bad at math”. As a parent, you have the ability to positively impact your child’s comfort level with math and help him regain his confidence.
Make Math a Regular Part of the Day
Find fun ways to weave math into your child’s daily activities. When cooking dinner, ask your child to adjust the recipe for a smaller or larger group. When shopping, ask him to calculate the money you’ll save with the 40% discount advertised on a sign in the store. When watching football, ask him how many different ways his favorite team can score 22 points. For more creative ideas, consult the NYC Department of Education’s list of math activities you can do with your child.
Provide Appropriate Help with Homework
If your child feels capable of completing math homework on his own, let him. Only provide help if he specifically asks for it. If he does ask for help, be sure to reinforce the skills and methods he learned in class. The way you learned double-digit multiplication may be very different from the way your child was taught. Review your child’s textbook or class notes beforehand to avoid confusing him with unfamiliar concepts.
Your child may eventually need help with math homework that you also struggled with in school. If this happens, show him how he can help himself. Remind him to review his textbook and class notes and encourage him to request extra help from his teacher. Whatever you do, don’t say, “I can’t help you because I’m no good at math.” This will give him unspoken permission to stop trying to succeed.
When your child’s homework is complete, review it together. Ask him to explain how he arrived at his answers. Describing his thought process will help him to identify potential errors in his work.
Talk to the Teacher
In order to fully understand your child’s experience with math, talk with his teacher. Share what you’ve noticed (for example, avoidance of fractions or difficulty factoring) and ask the teacher if she’s noticed the same things. Find out what she thinks might help your child increase his comfort with math. Your child may behave differently at school than he does at home, so his teacher likely has valuable insights into the cause of his anxiety.
When a child is anxious about math, he can find himself in a cycle of low confidence, avoidance of assignments, and poor grades. You might consider hiring a highly qualified math tutor, but there are also steps you can take at home to help increase his comfort level with math. By making math a regular part of your child’s day, providing him with appropriate homework help, and opening a dialogue with his teacher, you can help him break his cycle of anxiety, rediscover his confidence and once again say, “I’m good at math!”