How to talk to your child about math when you never liked math
Every parent wants to help their child in school. But that can be much more difficult when children are learning subjects that their parents never felt very strong in when they learned it themselves. This issue arises most often in math, where parents don’t feel confident enough to show their children how to solve a problem, so they assume they can’t help at all.
However, there are plenty of things that parents can do to help their children learn math, even if it wasn’t their favorite subject growing up. Below, we will outline 3 strategies that parents can take, as well as 3 things to avoid that tend to do more harm than good. Be sure to read until the end of the article, as we save our best strategy for last!
Don’t: Tell them “I was never good at math either.”
This statement might seem harmless, but it can come across as telling your child that they are bad at math, which can easily discourage them. Even worse, your child might take this to mean that “being bad at math” is something that is passed from parent to child, meaning that they are destined to struggle with math for the rest of their life.
Do: Acknowledge that math can be challenging, and it’s ok to struggle.
Many people, including adults and children, think that if you’re good at math, then every problem should be easy. In reality, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Most professional mathematicians will spend months working on a problem before they solve it. In that sense, it helps to teach children early on that it is good to struggle, and it is normal to get some questions wrong! This just means that they are challenging themselves and learning something. As long as they are persisting and trying to improve, struggling is the best way to get better at math.
Don’t: Say that you don’t need to know math in order to be successful.
It is certainly true that people can be successful without being math geniuses. However, telling your child that math isn’t necessary to be successful could sound to them like they have permission not to learn. For many children, they aren’t going to realize why what they’re learning is useful until years later, so it is important to not give them the impression that it isn’t useful! The truth is that a child’s interest in math early on can be far more important than their actual ability, so it is important to foster that interest.
Do: Talk about the ways that you use math in your life.
Even if you’re not an engineer or an accountant, everyone still uses math in some way every day! Remember that most children do not regularly speak with many adults outside of their teachers and their parents, so parents are their best source for learning about how math shows up in everyday life. Even if it’s just telling your children how you noticed that the cashier totalled your bill incorrectly, or how to figure out how much longer a road trip will take, finding ways to highlight the math of everyday life can really leave an impression.
Don’t: Criticize their reasoning if you don’t understand it.
It’s possible that your child is learning in a slightly different way than you do. Whether they’re being taught to add using an entirely new method, or they just think about fractions a little differently, it’s important not to criticize the way they are doing math. You can certainly show them the way that you know how to do something, but always emphasize that there are many ways to solve the same problem.
Do: Learn with them – or better yet – learn from them!
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, many parents assume that the only way to help their children in math is by showing them how to solve a problem. But even more valuable than showing them, is figuring it out with them! When solving a problem with you, your child is much more involved in the process of searching for the answer, which is far more beneficial than being given the answer. Additionally, by working on a problem with your child, you are helping them develop their communication skills which often get overlooked with math, and you are also reinforcing the idea that people can work on math together.
If your child already seems to have a decent grasp on what they are learning, try having them teach you! Whether you are an expert in math or a complete novice, having your children try to explain concepts to you is one of the best things you can do to help develop their understanding. Additionally, by showing interest in what they are learning, you are communicating the idea that math is interesting, which will make them more likely to become interested in it themselves.
The most important thing to remember is that even if you aren’t an expert mathematician yourself, you can still help your child learn math by showing an interest in what they are learning, and communicating with them about it often. In general, you should also avoid diminishing the importance of math or talking to your child in a way that might make them feel like they can’t be good at math. And if you are up for it, try to find opportunities to work on their homework with them. They might even be able to teach you something new!