Maths is like Marmite: you either love it or you hate it.

For many children, it’s the latter. Ask any group of students what their least-favourite subject is, and maths comes up time and time again. This animosity extends to older generations too, after all, no question strikes dread into parents’ hearts like “can you help me with my maths homework?”.

Why is maths so unpopular?

The answer is simple – although some children have an affinity for numbers, many will struggle with maths concepts. Without the right support, these struggles develop into an outright dislike of the subject that will eventually affect their performance – over 40% of students in the UK leave school without a good grade (grade 5 or above) in GCSE maths.

This is bad news for the students, as poor grades can limit their career pathways and life chances. It’s also bad news for the economy and for those industries who require a steady flow of well-qualified recruits to boost growth and innovation.

In this article, we examine 5 commonly held misconceptions that children have about maths and discuss how parents can help turn those opinions around.

1. “Maths is boring.”

There’s no getting away from it – maths can seem boring. Subjects like art and drama offer huge scope for creativity, while science lessons packed with practical exercises and experiments engage even the most reluctant student. In contrast, maths – with its endless succession of numbers and equations – can seem dreary. It’s not always easy to deliver the subject in a way that excites and interests young learners. School maths lessons are notorious for being stale, and once the boredom sets in even able students lose interest, with their learning suffering as a result.

What can parents do?

Try to build on what your child is learning but make it fun. For example, if they’re learning fractions, use real-life examples – such as cutting a cake into portions, or sharing a bag of sweets between several family members – to show them how fractions can be used in everyday life.

Various video games, card games, and board games can also help your child to understand key maths concepts. As a bonus, the latter two will give you the chance to spend quality time together as a family.

2. “Only geeks are good at maths, and I’m not a geek.”

Despite what the TV show “Big Bang Theory” would have you believe, maths isn’t cool. Not in the eyes of most school-aged children anyway (we beg to differ, but that’s another story). Being good at maths isn’t cool either, and worse, it can even earn you the reputation of being a bit of a geek. For image-conscious teenagers, especially girls, that can be a real hindrance to learning.

So, what can parents do?

Whatever your feelings are, don’t validate the idea that maths is boring. Instead, make time to explore mathematical concepts with your child, and tap into their interests. For example, if they love football, explain how to calculate key statistics, like how many points their team needs for promotion (“or to avoid relegation” – Newcastle fans, every season). Or, if they’re avid fans of Bake Off, use baking to explore concepts like weights, measures, and calculating cooking times.

Which brings us neatly to our next misconception….

3. “I don’t need maths to succeed in life.”

Young people often see maths as something that happens purely in the classroom – a redundant and pointless exercise that they can forget about the moment school is finished. The less they value the subject, the less effort they’ll put in – and they’ll struggle to reach their full potential.

So, what can parents do?

If your child understands how maths applies to real life, they’ll stop seeing it as a useless, irrelevant subject.

 The key is to put mathematics into a relatable context and point out its potential to open doors for your child. Website designers, video game developers, social media managers, marketers, and even chefs; these professionals all use maths in their daily work. Talk to your child about their goals and look for the ways that maths can help them reach those goals.

4. “Yeah, but you don’t like maths either.”

Our children’s attitudes are shaped by the attitudes of their role models: parents, friends, older siblings. As adults, we often unwittingly reinforce negative attitudes about maths by talking about how we hated the subject and how we struggled with it. These negative attitudes can reinforce the child’s belief that maths is dull and/or too difficult, and they eventually lose interest in the subject.

So, what can parents do?

The first thing to do is change the way we talk about maths ourselves. Use positive language, show an interest in what they’re learning, and don’t mention how hard (or dull) you think it is. We know that it’s tempting to bond with your child over a shared dislike of maths, but ultimately that won’t help them to learn. It could even increase their anxiety and fear of failure. Which brings us to our next point…

5. “Everyone else understands it – I’m stupid.”

We’ve already discussed how the fear of being labelled as “geeky” can lead able students to underperform. But the fear of failure and being seen as “stupid” is far more damaging. In the classroom, maths teachers deliver lessons to fit the average ability of the student group, yet for some children this pace will be too fast. It’s hard to put your hand up and ask for help when everyone else seems to be coping fine with the lesson, so all too often children don’t reach out. When the lesson moves on, these students are left behind and begin to lose confidence. Sometimes this is a temporary problem, but for other students this fear and lack of confidence can become entrenched, leading to maths anxiety.

So, what can parents do?

The most important thing is to reassure your child that they aren’t stupid, and they are not a failure. Be positive though – don’t agree with them that maths is impossible, this will only validate their fears. Instead work together with them to identify which concepts they’re struggling with, and how they can tackle the knowledge gap. Encourage them to speak with their teacher, and even (with your child’s permission) contact the teacher yourself to let them know about the problem and discuss solutions.

You may not be familiar with the material that your child is struggling with, especially if they’re an A-level maths student. If so, consider getting them extra support in the form of a private maths tutor. Private tuition offers children 1-1 lessons that focus on their individual areas of need. So, if your child needs to rediscover the joy in maths and rebuild their confidence, it could be the best investment in their education that you’ll ever make!

George Alexander Tuition provides 1-1 tuition for children aged 11-18. Our tutors will help your child tackle challenging maths concepts in a fun, friendly learning environment. To find out how we can help your child fall in love with numbers, contact us on Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel for our FREE GCSE and A-level video tutorials, and follow us on Instagram for our latest news and tips.


Leave a Reply