# Understanding why kids struggle with math

Expert reviewed by Daniel Ansari, PhD

## Quick tips to help kids with math

- Quick tip 1Take a break to calm down.Take a break to calm down.
Stress and anxiety over math can prevent kids (and adults) from doing their best. If kids are frustrated, pause and take a deep breath. When they’re calm, return to the math.

- Quick tip 2Explain the math concept again.Explain the math concept again.
Some kids need to hear a math concept explained a few times before they get it. Try to use a new or different example each time. If you struggle with math, see if an older child or another adult can do the explaining.

- Quick tip 3Find a sample problem.Find a sample problem.
When kids are asked to do math problems, there’s typically an example of a similar problem that’s been solved. Make sure kids have this example in front of them so they can follow it.

- Quick tip 4Use objects to do math.Use objects to do math.
When kids struggle with a math problem, it can help to use physical objects to show the math. Grab buttons or beads to do math operations like addition and subtraction, or even multiplication.

- Quick tip 5Turn word problems into equations.Turn word problems into equations.
Kids may stumble on word problems if reading is a challenge. Try writing out a word problem in the form of numbers and symbols. That can make it easier to solve.

If you see a child struggling with math, you might wonder why, and whether it’s something to be concerned about. Why is math so hard for some kids?

It’s not uncommon for kids to have trouble with math. Math difficulties can show up at different ages and in lots of ways. And it’s a myth that girls struggle more with math than boys do.

Some challenges are clearer, like trouble adding, subtracting, multiplying, or doing long division. Others are less noticeable and may not even seem directly related to math. For example, some kids have trouble telling time or left from right.

When kids struggle with math, it doesn’t mean they’re not smart or not trying hard enough. In fact, kids who have trouble with math are often trying their best.

Some kids just need more time and practice to learn math skills, or better instruction. Others need additional support to get there. The type of support kids need often depends on what’s causing the challenge.

## Dive deeper

### Examples of trouble with math

Kids who struggle with math may have trouble with very simple concepts, like “more” vs. “less” and “bigger” vs. “smaller.” They may not understand amounts or the order of things, such as “first,” “second,” or “third.”

The ability to understand basic concepts like these is known as number sense. When kids have poor number sense, it’s harder to learn math.

As kids move through school, more complex math can become a challenge. This includes concepts like time, distance, measurements, money, and math symbols. Find out what math skills kids typically have at different ages.

### Math learning differences

Some kids struggle with math because of a learning difference called dyscalculia. Dyscalculia isn’t as well-known as other learning and thinking differences, like dyslexia. But experts believe it’s just as common.

There are lots of tools and strategies to help kids with dyscalculia thrive. Learn more about dyscalculia signs and how to help.

### The connection between math and anxiety

When kids struggle with math, you may see certain behaviors. Kids may avoid doing math homework or get upset when they need to do it. They might cry before math tests and refuse to go to school. This may be related to their struggles.

On the other hand, sometimes even when kids understand math, they may still feel anxious about doing it. Some people call this math anxiety. Kids get so stressed out about math that it gets in the way of learning math. It can make it seem like they’re struggling with math, even if they aren’t.

### Next steps

No matter what’s causing a child’s trouble with math, there are ways to help.

Take notes on what you’re seeing and look for patterns. It’s helpful for families, educators, and even health care providers to talk together about what’s happening. Parents and caregivers can use these conversation starters with teachers.

Looking for specific ways to help kids build math skills?

**Parents and caregivers:** Get more tips and strategies for helping kids with math.

**Educators:** Try evidence-based math strategies, like using manipulatives and number representations.