Why Does My Child Have Trouble Counting?

By Bob Cunningham, EdM
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My son is 8 and he still has trouble counting. Why is counting so hard for him?


I’m glad you asked this. It’s something that baffles a lot of parents and caregivers when they see it in their child. Counting seems so basic that many people don’t realize how much goes into it.

Counting involves many small but critical skills. Together, these skills are sometimes called number sense. This is the ability to understand what numbers are and how they work — without thinking about it.

For example, kids with number sense naturally understand concepts like amounts and what more and less mean. They know there are symbols for numbers, like 5 means five things.

To count well, kids also need to learn and remember those symbols. That requires a skill called working memory.

When kids struggle with one or more of these skills, it creates challenges with math that go beyond just counting.

Talking to your child’s teacher is a great way for you to start getting answers. Share what you’re seeing at home and ask what the teacher is seeing at school. Is counting the only area your child struggles with? What can help your child improve?

In the meantime, there are things you can do at home, too. It helps to give kids small objects to move as they count.

Remember, too, that when kids have trouble with things like math, it can make them feel bad about themselves. Keep an eye on your child’s frustration level. Remind your child that other kids have difficulties, too, just like your child has strengths.

About the Author

About the Author

Bob Cunningham, EdM 

serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.

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