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Sheila Tobias on "I'm bad at math!"

The author of the seminal book on math phobia, “Overcoming Math Anxiety,” says that every child - save a rare few - can succeed at math. Here’s how.

By Leslie Crawford

Don't hope the problem will just go away, says Overcoming Math Anxiety author Sheila Tobias. There's several ways parents can ensure they have a “math-healthy” child. Here's how.

“When your child says 'I’m not good at math,' respond with a counter-factual statement: ‘You can’t be bad at math because you’re so good at tennis and you can calculate when the ball is going to be on your side of the court. You cook and help me half the recipe and together you and I do the calculation. You’re good at math because last year you were figuring out the mileage on our trip. You’re good at jigsaw puzzles and are very good at spacial visualization, so you’re good at math.’ Whatever your child does well, I would find a link to math. You’re really stating a fact that your child does use math all the time and knows how to do it. The frequency of something called dyscalculia — a real brain inability to do math — is miniscule. The incidence is so small that the likelihood any child that you or I know has it is virtually zero.

“If they’re not good at math, it’s because of how they are assessed or because they want to be like mom and mom’s always handing dad the check at dinner to figure out the tip. Or because there’s a concept that they misunderstand and it’s like that dropped stitch when you’re knitting. If they didn’t get subtraction or division or something along the way is undermining their confidence, this requires further probing. It’s also worth looking at a math test and how it was graded. Say to your child, ‘Let’s see where you were marked wrong’ Chances are they might have been marked wrong for a right answer but for the wrong reason. If you aren’t sure how to do this, get somebody who does, someone you might know – a neighbor or relative – who is competent, confident, and can instruct your child and give your child the confidence.”

There's more! Four other experts share their best advice on combatting your child's math phobia.

Carol DweckCarol Dweck: Just by using this one small word, you can make a big difference...

Danica McKellarDanica McKellar: Fight the myth that only ‘nerds’ are good at math...

Carol DweckErica Reischer: Try to steer kids away from making it about being bad or good...

Frances SpielhagenFrances Spielhagen: First, validate by saying, "Yes, math can be difficult..."





is a senior editor at GreatSchools.