Top 5 Things NEVER to Do/Say AGAIN When Helping Your Child With Math!!!

What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.   

George Bernard Shaw

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!!! I had a blog all good to go with stories from my own edcuational journey, my son’s, and others. Yet it didn’t seem to fit my purpose, which is to support parents in helping their children with math. So I decided to let y’all in on some secrets. Here are the top 5 things teachers wished you would never do (or say) when helping with math. Likewise, here are the top 3 things teachers wished you would always do when supporting your child in math.

Top 5 Things NEVER To Do Again When You Help Your Child With Math

  1. 7cd05c2267bceac7ba2101dc4624d14dNever say, “I wasn’t good at math.” This goes for teachers that do not teach mathematics as well! In fact, on my most recent blog, many responded (on FB) that they were never good at math, nor would they be good at math now. This self-deprecation has to stop NOW!!! This is a cop-out, and it allows your child to think it is okay to be illnumeric (Yeah, totally made up that word.) Would you admit to your child that you couldn’t read or write? Would that be acceptable in your home for your child not to be able to read or write? Heck no! So just stop.
  2. thDVCZDEMMNEVER say the homework is stupid, boring, ridiculous, etc. in front of your child. Jo Boaler, a mathematician out of Stanford University, has done a ton of research on the correlation between student effort and performance in mathematics. Bottom line: the more effort you put in, the better you do. To learn mathematics takes effort, time, and perseverance. You may not like what your child is doing, but relay that message to the teacher, not your child. And please do not write a derogatory note on your child’s homework. This negativity leads your child to believe that he can choose to do some work and skip other work because it is uncomfortable. Would that fly in a job atmosphere? Can I choose to do some of my job-related work and ditch the rest because it is boring? NO, I cannot. Please, support your child at home. Encourage him to try his hardest. “Play” with the problems. And if he goes over the research-based homework time (According to Robert Marzano, 10 minutes per grade level. So for grade 3, 30 min.) take a break, and email his teacher.
  3. 185255772NEVER do the homework for your child! My favorite story about this was with a young lady who was perfectly capable of doing the homework, but got stuck and didn’t know what to do. She asked her father for help. He literally took the pencil from her daughter and wrote it out for her. You could see on the page where she stopped and he began. When I pulled her aside and asked her, she said, “Well, he thought I couldn’t do it so he did it for me.” What did that teach her? When it gets too tough, give up and assume someone else will do it for you? If you want to help, ask questions. But don’t give answers.
  4. stopwatchNEVER EVER attribute brilliance with speed! I am at fault for this. When a toddler can do something quickly, how do we respond? “Wow! You are so SMART.” No, you just already knew how to do it. Children are brought up thinking if they don’t know the answer to a math problem immediately, they are dumb. That is sooo not true!!! Mathematics takes deep focus, diligence, and perseverance. Encourage effort, not speed.
  5. thJ6P17D2JNEVER make excuses for your child to get out of the work. Look, life happens. We teachers get it. Things come up. We love it when you communicate with us, especially when unforeseen circumstances arise. However, your child is still responsible for the work. It may be late, but should still be done. I used to cringe when my middle school student would come in with a big ol’ grin and say, “My mom said I didn’t have to do this and here is the note!” Work it out with the teacher, not your child.

Top 3 Things To Do Right Now To Support Your Child in Math

  1. you can do itEncourage effort. When your child gets frustrated, you can absolutely say that math was tough for you too. BUT MOVE ON. What are the resources she has to support the homework? Was she given examples in notes? Did she already do some of the problems (to look at to refresh her memory)? Are there videos on-line to help? BTW: Many publishers have on-line support via tutorials. Ask your teacher for the link, login and password! Does your teacher offer tutoring? Encourage your child to attend. All of these resources will continue as she moves through education. These are great tools to learn how to access now!
  2. QuestionsAsk questions. My favorite story was of a grandfather who took care of his granddaughter after school. She ended up getting her doctorate (I believe). When asked what contributed to her success, she said it was all the help her grandfather gave her with her homework throughout her time in school. Little did she know, her grandfather was illiterate. He simply helped through questioning. You don’t have to know the math. You need to have good questions to ask.
    • What homework did you have in math today? Show it to me. (Yes, even my child has said his homework is done and…ooops! Still have a few problems left to do…)
    • Tell me what you have tried and where you think you are getting stuck. (Not a question, but a great place to start.)
    • What did you learn in class today that could help you with this? Let’s look it up in the index (if they have a book at home) and see if we can go through the lesson together.
    • Do you have notes from today? Let’s re-read them and see if they can help us.
    • Do you have a problem already done? Let’s go through the steps and see if that refreshes your thoughts.
    • What do you know? Where are you stuck in the problem?
    • Could we go online and look up how to do _______?
    • Who could you call to ask for help? Could you meet with them before school/lunch/etc? (I offered my room for study groups. Kids would come and work together on the homework. Awesome to listen to them help each other!)
    • When does your teacher offer tutoring? Let’s take you to get some support.
  3. Parent teacher ConferenceBe in communication with your teacher. You are your child’s greatest advocate. This is critical in middle and high school, where teachers have up to 200 students a day! Email the teacher when your child is stuck. When he is frustrated. When things get difficult at home. When we had our second child (ten years later), my oldest started slipping in school. I emailed his teachers what was happening, and they were super supportive, giving him the attention and help he needed to get back on track. Teachers do not know what is going on in their students’ outside lives unless you help them know. Help your child by keeping the lines of communication open!

Notice none of my suggestions encouraged you to become a mathematician. Just be a support for your child, encourage effort, and keep in contact with his teacher. These are the greatest gifts you can give a teacher (and your child!). THANKS!!!

To read more from Jo Boaler:

Top 5 Things NEVER to Do/Say AGAIN When Helping Your Child With Math!!!

3 thoughts on “Top 5 Things NEVER to Do/Say AGAIN When Helping Your Child With Math!!!

  1. Jenn H. says:

    Thanks so much Jen! I love your thoughts on this and how you’ve pulled things together. CMC has some additional things to consider (and some additional questions you might ask when your child gets stuck) as well as how to build your own math toolkit for home. It’s available for free (to view and download) in English and Spanish at:

    Liked by 1 person

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