Understanding Your Child’s Trouble With Math

By The Understood Team
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At a Glance

  • It’s not uncommon for kids to have trouble with math.

  • Math difficulties can show at different ages and in lots of ways.

  • Struggling with math doesn’t mean a child isn’t smart.

If your child is struggling with math, you might wonder why, and whether it’s something to be concerned about. Some people are just bad at math, right?

Some kids who have trouble with math just need more time and practice to learn math skills. Others need extra help and support to get there. Learn more about math challenges in kids, and what can help.

Math Difficulties You Might Be Seeing

If your child is having difficulty with math, there are certain behaviors you might see. Kids who struggle with math might avoid doing math homework or get upset when they have to do it. They might cry before math tests or refuse to go to school on days when tests take place.

There are other signs of difficulty that may not even seem related to math. For example, you might see your child struggling with very simple concepts, like “more” and “less” and “bigger” and “smaller. Your child might also have trouble understanding amounts or the order of things in a list, such as “first,” “second” or “third.”

The ability to understand these and other basic concepts is known as number sense. When kids have poor number sense, it makes it hard to learn math.

As kids move through school and have to learn more complex math, their challenges may show up in other ways. Here are some skills kids may struggle with:

  • Understanding time and distance

  • Working with measurements

  • Remembering math facts, like 2 + 4 = 6

  • Multiplication and division

  • Identifying symbols like + and –

  • Putting numerals in the right column

  • Working with money

  • Understanding graphs and charts

What Can Cause Trouble With Math

Why is math so hard for some kids? When kids struggle with math, it doesn’t mean they’re not smart. It also doesn’t mean they’re lazy. In fact, kids who have trouble with math are often trying really hard. They just need more and better support to improve.

Being a boy or a girl doesn’t have anything to do with math skills, either. (Hear what an expert says about the myth that boys are better at math than girls.)

All kids develop math skills at different rates. Younger kids might just need more time to hit math milestones.

Sometimes, even when kids understand math, they may feel anxious about doing math at all. 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.

And sometimes, certain learning and thinking differences are a factor. This includes a common math learning difficulty called dyscalculia.

The good news is that whatever is behind your child’s difficulties with math, there are things you and the school can do to help.

What Can Help Kids With Math

No matter what’s causing your child’s trouble with math, there are ways to help. Take notes on what you’re seeing. If there’s a pattern that goes on for a while, talk to your child’s teacher and pediatrician. They can be great sources of information and advice.

Ask the teacher what’s happening in class and what you can try at home. There are lots of ways you can help your child build math skills:

Struggling with math can make kids feel like they’re not smart. And that can take a toll on their self-esteem. Let your child know that everyone struggles with something and that all people have strengths, too. Help your child develop a growth mindset and stay motivated to keep trying, even when math is hard.

And if you’re concerned about dyscalculia, see next steps. One option is to request a free school evaluation, which can help you better understand your child’s challenges and strengths.

Key Takeaways

  • Kids develop math skills at different rates, and some kids need more time and practice to catch up.

  • Talk to your child’s teacher about what you’re seeing and ways to help your child at home.

  • A free evaluation can help you understand your child’s challenges and strengths, and how to help.

About the Author

About the Author

The Understood Team 

is made up of passionate writers, editors, and community moderators. Many of them learn and think differently, or have kids who do.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Daniel Ansari, PhD 

is a professor in developmental cognitive neuroscience at Western University, Canada.

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