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Math Phobia

Education Expert Advice from Peggy Gisler, Ed.S. and Marge Eberts, Ed.S.

Q: My daughter is a constant stress case! She cries over little things like not knowing her addition and subtraction. She's in the third grade, and while I realize she should have these down by now, I usually spend so much time trying to soothe her worries, it feels I've lost ground. Her self-esteem is at stake and without self-confidence in her intelligence (she is a very smart girl), I'm afraid she's going to block herself. What can I do to help her learn without making her feel stupid?

A: Unfortunately, it sounds like your daughter is well on the way to developing a math phobia if she doesn't have one already. You need to help her become comfortable with math. The solution is to go back to basics and make sure that she really knows the easiest facts from 1+1 on up to 9+9 and can readily subtract numbers from "teen" numbers. It will be helpful to make flash cards and use counters (blocks, beans, and pennies) so she can see the problems.

Besides making sure that your child knows the basic facts, she needs to acquire strategies that will help her determine an answer when she can't immediately recall it. Strategies will stop your daughter from feeling frustrated when she doesn't know a fact. For example, if she can't add 9+2, she should know that she'll be able to get the answer by counting two beyond the number to be added and say, "Nine (the number to be added), ten, eleven."

You can't delay in finding a way to help your daughter improve her math skills. Her problems will only increase with multiplication on the horizon. You should consider hiring a high school student to work with your daughter as she might respond well to an enthusiastic young tutor. The local high school will have a list of students. Or you might consider sending your child to a learning center such as Kumon, Sylvan, or Huntington.

It will take time for your child to acquire the math skills she needs. However, every inch of progress will increase her belief that she can handle math and improve her self-confidence.

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Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts are experienced teachers who have more than 60 educational publications to their credit. They began writing books together in 1979. Careers for Bookworms was a Book-of-the-Month Club paperback selection, and Pancakes, Crackers, and Pizza received recognition from the Children's Reading Roundtable. Gisler and Eberts taught in classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school. Both have been supervisors at the Butler University Reading Center.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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