Danica McKellar, former child star of The Wonder Years, discovered as a teenager that she not only loved math, she was great at it. But she was dismayed that so many girls were avoiding the subject in droves, so wrote four books for tweens and teens to show them how to approach math to make it accessible and fun. Here she talks about how parents can help their children who say they’re no good at the much-maligned subject.

“First, remember that it may not be all of math they feel they aren’t good at; it may be the particular topic they are struggling with. Start by saying something like, ‘That’s a feeling you’re having because you’re struggling with a problem right now.’ Remind them of a time and a problem they did well on. Emphasize that math, just like life, will have challenges along the way, and that it’s important to recognize the struggles as temporary obstacles they can absolutely overcome.

“A huge issue is that kids are very easily influenced by our society’s myths surrounding math — that only ‘nerds’ are good at math, that it’s too scary or hard, that math isn’t needed in real life. So, it’s important to ‘rebrand’ math for them, and help them see how doable, fun, and relevant it is — whether it’s giving them my books [like Kiss My Math and Math Doesn’t Suck] or pointing out math in everyday life. For example, at the grocery store, ask them to calculate the total price for the 3 pounds of chicken at $5/lb. And try incorporating math into their allowance: ‘If you do such-and-such a chore, you’ll get 20 percent more allowance.’ Make a list of these and then have them calculate the total at the end of the week. After all, math is the language of money, and even kids understand the relevance of that!” [Editor’s note: Danica McKellar welcomes questions and comments from kids about math on Twitter @danicamckellar.]

Here’s how 4 other parenting experts say to respond…


Deborah Tillman
America’s Supernanny Deborah Tillman says that when a child is struggling with math — or any subject — parents need to step in quickly to help. Here’s how. Format: Video (1:20)

Kalid Azad
Math whiz Kalid Azad says the best response to this lament is to help kids discover math in the world around them. Format: Article

Carol Dweck
Stanford researcher and Mindset author Carol Dweck says when kids utter this common refrain, respond using a powerful word that changes everything. Format: Video (0:42)

Frances Spielhagen
Frances R. Spielhagen, author of The Algebra Solution to Mathematics Reform, says parents can change their child’s math-aversion by taking this multi-pronged approach.Format: Article

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