Why Do Some Kids Write Numbers Backwards?

By Elizabeth Babbin, MEd
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Q

My son is 6 and still writes numbers (and letters) backwards much of the time. Does that mean he’ll have trouble with math, and is there anything we can do to help?

A

Writing numbers backwards has nothing to do with understanding math. So it shouldn’t create any difficulties with learning math. The numbers your son uses are correct. They’re just written incorrectly.

Lots of parents have questions about their child writing backwards. (Kids often write letters backwards, too.) They want to know why it happens and if it’s a problem.

First, writing backwards (teachers may call it reversal) isn’t unusual for kids under 7. In fact, it’s developmentally appropriate. If your son is still reversing numbers after age 7, he may need extra help learning to write them correctly.

When kids have trouble writing numbers the right way, it’s because of how their brain processes what they see. This can cause challenges in math class or with homework, but it doesn’t mean they’re “bad at math.”

There are no quick solutions when kids write numbers backwards. But there are ways you can help your son learn to write them correctly over time.

One of the best ways is using what’s called a multisensory approach. With this approach, kids use various senses to learn how to form numbers the right way. For example, you can have your son trace numbers on sandpaper or write them in pudding or shaving cream.

Repetition is key to success. It builds what’s known as muscle memory. Some kids need to practice writing and identifying numbers many, many times before they’re able to consistently form them the correct way.

This doesn’t sound like your son, but some kids have a related difficulty that can impact how they do in math. They transpose numbers. Instead of writing 32, they’ll write 23. That throws off their computation and leads to wrong answers. Using a multisensory approach and practice can help here, too.

Learn more about why some kids have trouble with math.

About the Author

About the Author

Elizabeth Babbin, MEd 

is the instructional support teacher at Lower Macungie Middle School in Macungie, Pennsylvania.

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