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.”

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


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)

Danica McKellar
“Math isn’t for nerds!” says Danica McKellar, best-selling author of Kiss My Math. She wants kids, especially girls, to know they can learn to love math. Format: Article

Erica Reischer
Instead of focusing on whether they’re “good” or “bad” at something, help kids see the value of hard work, says parent coach and psychologist Erica Reischer. Format: Video (1:41)

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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