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How to help a child who hates math

Whether your student is in first or 11th grade, she likely has subjects she loves and subjects she hates. Like a large percentage of children, the subject she hates most may be math. However, the need for math persists well into adulthood, through high school and into college curriculum requirements — as well as the daily requirements of life. Given these details, you may be wondering how you can help your student overcome his fear or disgust of math. (After all, no parent wishes to see their child struggle!)

Where do you begin? What do you say? Is there hope?

1. Investigate the source of her feelings

In many instances, the signs of math anxiety and aversion are obvious — your student may procrastinate with completing her math homework or he may outright refuse to start or finish it. He may repeatedly forget only his math textbook, or he may hide graded homework assignments, quizzes and tests. But why does he feel this way about math? This question can be difficult to answer, but it is the first step in alleviating a strong dislike of math. Is she struggling to understand her instructor’s teaching style? Is he in a class that moves too quickly for him? A gentle, non-judgmental conversation with your child should be your first step, but you may also find it beneficial to speak with the instructor.

2. Review your own attitude toward math

Math is a commonly disliked school subject. Consider, for a moment, how often you have heard someone say, “I am just not a math person,” or “When will I ever use math in real life?” Perhaps you have even uttered a similar phrase yourself. Like so much else in life, children emulate their parents’ attitudes toward education, including their preference for or dislike of specific subjects. If you often comment on how difficult math is, and if your student has begun to hate it, consider rephrasing your comments about the subject. Phrases like, “This might be difficult now, but why don’t we practice it together?” can make a world of difference. Remember: practice makes perfect, and everyone can become good at math with hard work and support.

3. Highlight math outside of an academic context

Few individuals find exams and worksheets interesting. If this is your child’s primary experience with math, she may naturally grow to hate it. Luckily, math is a day-to-day aspect of life. Does your student like to play or watch a sport like basketball, football, ice hockey or soccer? Help him become familiar with the statistics on websites for organizations like the NHL or NWHL. (Goalie save percentage, for instance, is essentially a fraction between total saves and total shots on goal.) Math is also present in activities like baking, knitting and music. Follow your child’s interests to the spaces where they intersect with math, and you may find her attitude toward this vital academic subject gradually changing.

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