Want to help your child with math?

With the adoption of the Common Core state standards in mathematics, the biggest complaints I hear are from parents. They struggle to help their child with math homework since it looks so different from the way most of us were taught math.

While I applaud parents trying to help, especially since parental involvement is tied to higher student achievement, I have advice for parents struggling to help their child with math.

Stop teaching the tricks

A large amount of research has gone into the progression of teaching students mathematical concepts. The shift has moved away from teaching students to blindly follow rules and toward making sure they understand the larger mathematical ideas and reasoning behind the processes. When that foundation is there, the tricks become a natural shortcut in problem solving. 

However, by teaching the trick before a child has this foundation, you may be inadvertently doing more harm than good. Students become reliant on tricks and fail to master the conceptual understanding needed to use the tricks appropriately. 

Remember, kids will be more successful in the future as a problem-solver than as a memorizer.


Have your child teach you what they learned in school using their homework. The act of teaching another person is a learning process in itself and will help your child grapple with the concept and apply it even when the connection is not obvious.

By letting your child lead the learning, you may come to realize how you can support your child in their homework, or your child may realize what needs to be done on their own. At the very least, you’ve shown genuine interest in what your child is learning and provided moral support for their struggle.

Stop worrying about it being correct

The role of homework is evolving. It should be an opportunity for students to practice concepts and skills and for the teacher to see what students do or do not understand.  

If you’re helping your child, the teacher is seeing what you know, not what your child knows. 


Support putting forth a full effort on homework. If they are really struggling, encourage your child to seek extra help from the teacher.  

Not convinced this is for you? Think about your child in college. Do you want them coming home every time they have a challenging assignment or do you want them to be independent and seek the support resources available to them on campus? Help them learn to become more independent.

When children know you support them no matter what, they are more likely to seek help.

Stop the negative math talk

Never tell your child that you weren’t a math person, you are bad at math or you hated math growing up. You are still the number one person your son or daughter looks up to, so if you aren’t a math person, he or she might believe they won’t be one either. 

This shuts their mind to the mathematical challenges ahead of them. Every time they suffer a setback, it will reinforce the belief that they are also bad at math. This only makes it more difficult to learn in the future.


Explain to your child that math is difficult at first, just like any task that is new. But the harder and the more you work on mathematical content, the better you will get. 

Additionally, show your student that math is all around them. Have them help cook and measure with fractions. Ask them to total the amount of money you need at the grocery store based on what you put in the cart. Older kids can estimate tax and tip. Have them pay bills with you and balance your checkbook. When they see the role math plays in everyday life, the learning they are doing in the classroom becomes more relevant and important.

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