Simple Tips to Solve Your Child’s Math Struggles

Why is math so hard? What can we do?

While some people are naturally “math wizards,” most of us need some help from time to time. Surprisingly, often the help we need is some simple tips, more likely to do with our approaches to the work than to anything actually “mathematical”!

When you are helping your child with math (or doing math yourself) and run into difficulties, here are some simple, helpful tips:



  • Know “math facts” accurately:

So many incorrect answers can be traced simply to an incorrect math fact. Ideally, of course, you’ll want to memorize those facts of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division (For lots of great ideas on how to learn math facts, check out my Easy to Learn Math Facts booklets. But meanwhile, go ahead and use a math facts chart or a calculator.

  • Learn and remember basic math concepts:

Many times, children have simply missed out on or have forgotten basic “rules.” Let’s use positive and negative numbers as an example of these kinds of “rules.” Do you remember these?

– When using a number line, subtraction goes to the left and addition goes to the right

– A negative number minus a negative number always makes an even “larger” negative number (-12 -14 = -26) just as a positive number plus a positive number makes a “larger” positive number (12 + 14 = 26)

– A negative plus a positive makes a smaller negative … or even a positive (-8 +2 = -6 OR -4 + 5 = 1). Using a number line to illustrate this will be very helpful to your child.

– A positive plus a negative always makes a smaller positive or even a negative [8 + (-3) = 8-3 = 5 OR 4 + (-6) = 4-6 = -2

– When multiplying, negative x negative = positive. -6 x -3 = 18

– When multiplying, negative x positive = negative. -6 x 3 = 18

– When multiplying, positive x positive = positive 6 x 3 = 18
So… if your child is struggling in a particular “unit” in math, set aside the questions for a few minutes and review the rules. Do some examples together, then try the questions again.

  • Math is logical … and it is also balanced.

An “equation” requires that the math on one side of the equation “is equal to” the math on the other side (2+4=6 SO 6=6). I had so much trouble with algebra when I was young until someone pointed that out–and then it was like a light went on!

When working out equations (whether simple or complex ones), remember that if you do something to one side, you must do the same to the other side. The equation must be kept balanced at every step.

And here’s a related and very important tip: Until you are very comfortable with working out equations, do ONE step at a time. Here’s an example from a simple algebraic equation:
5 – x = 2
-5       -5 *
-x = 2-5
-x = -3
x = 3 **
* To get the unknown (x) on one side of the equation, you need to put the number(s) on the other side. To do that, you do the opposite: so the opposite of 5 is -5. To keep the equation equal, do the same thing on both sides!
** When both sides are negative, the negatives cancel out and the answer is positive!
As you go along in math, the equations become more and more complicated. It is very important to write out each step clearly (neatly). Also, especially with the unknown “x”, use the written form rather than the printed form, as the printed form is too easy to confuse with the x that means “multiplied by.”

  • Use illustrations or videos (or real-life examples)!

Many people understand math concepts better with illustrations like pictures or videos–or of course with real-life examples. There are lots and lots of wonderful videos online that teach all kinds of math concepts. Just do a search for whatever topic you’re struggling with, and you’ll find some wonderful, colourful, entertaining help! Or take a look around your home and your daily activities. How can you use this math concept in real life?

  • Accuracy is always really important.

Especially when doing geometry, make sure you have your tools (your geometry set) handy, and use it very carefully. I see so many children “estimate” lengths, draw geometric figures “freehand”, try to plot (x,y) sets on a graph without using graph paper, or even if using graph paper be in a hurry and end up putting the dot in the wrong place. This also, of course, applies to using tables, graphs, etc.

This even applies to solving equations. It is amazing how many children (and adults) “forget” or don’t bother to write in the proper sign (+ – x /) when calculating in a column, fail to underline the list of numbers before solving, or scrawl down the numbers so that when it comes to solving the problem, they can’t read the numeral and see it as a “9” instead of a “4” or a “5” instead of a “6.”

  • Show your work!

A lot of people dislike spending time writing down all their work on a math problem because “it’s a waste of time” and “I can do it in my head.” But here are some good reasons to show your work:

– You won’t forget anything. It’s easy for simple little things to “slip out” of your mind. On the other hand, it’s always a good idea to practice doing “mental math” in case you find yourself in a situation (like comparing prices at a store) where you don’t have a paper and pen or calculator handy.

– After solving the problem, you can easily check your work and catch and fix any little errors–just remember to then re-do the rest of the equation because it will change, too.

– On a test, many teachers will allow at least “part marks” if they can see your work. If you only write the answer and it’s wrong–then you’ll get a “0” for that question.

– Even when you’re doing a whole bunch of similar equations, doing the work each time will get the process firmly embedded in your memory–and in future, when you come across these kinds of questions, you’ll remember how to do them.

– In future, you will come across more and more complicated math problems that use “easy basics” in them. If you have those easy basics firmly embedded in your memory, all you’ll need to learn is the new parts instead of having to learn everything all over again. Get those “foundational bricks” set in place, and the rest of the mathematical “building” will rise up much more easily!

One more tip: Some really simple issues:

Check to see if your child is wearing his/her glasses … has good lighting … is using a sharpened pencil and has a good eraser handy … is using appropriate math tools … is in a quiet, undistracted setting ….

So many times, a sheet of math work with many errors can be traced to one or more of these simple issues!

Watch for future posts on more simple math tips and tricks!

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