How to help your child cope with math fatigue

May 29, 2016 | Burlington

On a recent evening, my 7-year-old had a series of double-digit addition problems to complete for her math homework. I thought, “No problem. We can knock this out in 10-20 minutes.” Boy, was I wrong.

That 20-minute homework session turned into nearly 3 hours. My daughter had completely forgotten the skills she had been taught that day in school. Every problem was like going to a war you knew you would lose. I felt like Sisyphus, the mythical Greek king sentenced to a life of rolling the same miserable rock up the same hill, only to watch it roll back down every time.

When I asked my daughter to complete part of a problem that involved adding zero and nine, and she said 29 in an exasperated tone, we decided to let it go for the night. I don’t believe in giving up on my kids, but at that point, we were both exhausted and we weren’t getting anywhere. She needed a break.

My daughter is not alone. Many kids are not math whizzes, and frankly have no desire to be. But it’s a key skill for many careers, so they need to plow through, and parents need to support that effort. But how can we help our children beat the arithmetic blues?

I spoke with Steve Perry, a contributor to CNN and MSNBC and the author of“Push Has Come to Shove: Getting Our Kids the Education They Deserve — Even if it Means Picking a Fight.” Perry also founded Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., a program for children in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

He laid out several common-sense ways to help kids and parents contend with mathematics fatigue. Here are his suggestions.

Parents must change their attitude towards math. I’m guilty of expressing my disdain for math under my breath in front of my kids, but Perry discourages this. Telling our children that we were bad in math, or that we never achieved anything higher than a B, could inadvertently make our kids believe sub-par math skills are acceptable. He says a child hearing that message could slowly stop trying to perform their best at math, so it’s imperative that parents not perpetuate negative attitudes.

Take the child’s age into consideration. Introducing your child to math earlier in life, before they are in school, can help increase their comfort level with the subject, and decrease their later frustration. Perry recommends purchasing math workbooks for your child before they enter grade school. It helps solidify those basic math foundations they will need throughout their educational career. He also recommends that parents take the child along to choose the workbook, and make the experience fun, to build excitement about practicing math.

Know when to invest in a tutor. Perry says it is important for a child to establish, and build upon, a basic foundation of math. Perry has seen kids of all ages, including young adults, struggle with arithmetic. It can be difficult to keep up with pre-calculus when you struggled with basic algebra, so parents shouldn’t shy away from the idea of a math tutor. The moment you notice a trending problem in your child’s math ability, seek assistance from a professional. In fact, knowing how critical math skills are, Perry enlisted a tutor for his own children as early as age 4.

Recognize when your child needs a break. Parents are always trying to find a break from the world. Sometimes our kids need that break too. Perry emphasized that parents need to be the judge of when their child is tapped out. Pressing them to continue to do what they don’t enjoy, he said, could build negative feelings toward the work that can linger throughout their school career. Don’t feel bad about putting the brakes on when they start making mistakes on problems that should be easy. Switch to a different subject, have dinner, or let them do another non-school related activity for a while. That gives them time to recharge; you can continue the math later.

Don’t be too hard on your child … or yourself. Parents want the best for their children, especially when it comes to education. However, Perry suggests parents let go of that mindset. There’s no “best way” to do math, he said, so don’t beat yourself down if you feel you’re not always perfect in helping your child achieve success. Perry said it’s important to know your child and what works best for them. Some children benefit from a break, while others prefer to push through difficult work because that’s how they grasp the material best. Some work well alone, and others need a little hand-holding. There are as many strategies to combat math difficulty as there are children. Be patient with your child, and yourself, while you figure out what works.

Monica Leftwich is a freelance writer who covers single parenting, finance and women’s health. Find her at or on Twitter@Moleftwich.