Homework Help Part 2: Strategies to Add Confidence and Subtract Anxiety

Math homework has been known to cause tears, frustration, and headaches for parents and children alike. Unfortunately, something that is intended to help children get better at math tends to turn them against it.

Regardless of what you believe about homework (more on that in another post), you can’t control what your child’s math homework looks like or how often their teacher assigns it. You can, however, help your child get through it as pain free as possible while developing essential math skills along the way.

Here are some techniques that will give you the confidence you need to support your child and keep anxiety at bay.

Create a Positive Math Environment

Every message you send while helping your child with their homework has the potential to either build your child’s math confidence or build their math anxiety. If you’ve read my other posts, you might be tired of hearing this by now, but if you take anything away from your time with me, this is it: What you say to your child matters – a lot.

A quick summary of do’s and don’ts from my previous posts:

  • Avoid saying things like I’m not a math person
  • Avoid telling your child what that they should already know something
  • Emphasize the process over getting to the right answer
  • Emphasize understanding over speed
  • Encourage finger counting

When it comes to homework specifically, avoid saying negative things about the teacher or the homework assignment. Unless you have reason to believe otherwise, your child’s teacher works hard every day to teach your child new math concepts. This is no easy task! Saying “That way doesn’t make any sense” will only lead to further confusion for your child and frustration for you.

Sit Back and Ask Questions

Avoid giving your child the answer or telling them how to do the problem. Your child will miss out on important practice opportunities if you are doing the work for them. Also, many of us grew up learning a different approach to math. This means that your way of solving the problem is most likely different from what your child learned in class. This leads to confusion for your child and frustration for you.

Instead, ask general questions that model sense making. This gives your child the opportunity to explain their thinking and see what questions they should be asking when approaching a new problem. The key here is for your child to be the one doing most of the talking and the thinking – not you.

  • What is the problem asking you to do?
  • How is this similar to what you did in class today?
  • How are you thinking about solving this problem?

Educate Yourself

Core Math is big on visuals, and many of them might appear foreign to you. While their unfamiliarity may give you anxiety, the visuals are essential to help children see the concepts behind the procedures – see my previous post for more on this. Once you begin to understand some of the common visuals, you might even come to love them – or at least feel less inclined to tear your hair out.

Take some time to study the diagrams that I (painstakingly) created to shed light on mysterious terms like ten frame, array, and area model. Each section highlights a common Core Math visual and provides a brief overview of its purpose and how it works. In later posts I’ll go into these different approaches in depth, but for now, just familiarize yourself with the basics:

Use Teacher Resources

The most helpful resources will be those from your child’s teacher because they should be the most closely aligned to your child’s homework. If you get stuck, first look at your child’s notes from class, previous homework or classwork assignments, or any online platform the teacher uses or recommends.

If you can find a similar question in your child’s classwork, you’re set – even if you don’t quite understand what you’re looking at. Use the problem and process done in class to ask questions that guide your child through the problem.

  • What was the first thing you did when you worked through this problem in class?
  • What does this step mean?
  • How is this question from class similar to the one on your homework?

Bring in the Senses

If your child is struggling to understand a problem, ask them to draw a picture. Their visual will give you an idea of how they are thinking about the problem. From there, you can ask general questions to help them work through it.

When at all possible, make the math tactile by giving your child physical objects to represent their thinking. This can be anything you have lying around – coins, beans, paperclips, pens – literally anything you have enough of to model a problem with.

Phone a Friend

Core Math emphasizes communicating ideas and collaborating with others, so why not incorporate this into your homework strategy? Have your child reach out to a classmate, and they can talk through the problem together. Not only will this take some of the pressure off of you, it will also give your child and their friend the opportunity to practice critical discussion skills.

However, be wary of your child simply copying answers rather than understanding them. You can ward against this by asking your child to take on the role of the teacher and teach you how to do the problem.

Gracefully Step Away

If you reach the 30 minute mark and you’re still confused, press pause. Spinning your wheels will only lead to increased anxiety and frustration around future math homework. Write a note or email the teacher explaining that you and your child attempted the problem and weren’t able to figure it out.

Make sure that your child doesn’t erase any of their work! This is valuable data that will help the teacher identify what your child knows and doesn’t know.

Take Action

  • Use these guidelines when helping your child with homework (snazzy acronym anyone?):
    • Create a positive math environment
    • Sit back and ask questions
    • Use teacher resources
    • Bring in the senses
    • Phone a friend
    • Gracefully step away
  • Educate yourself on Core Math visuals and approaches with these resources:
  • Try using some of the interactive manipulatives you can find online:
  • Let me know (rdevaney191@gmail.com) if there are other types of problems that you see regularly and would like explained.


Boaler J, Chen L, Williams C, Cordero M (2016) Seeing as Understanding: The Importance of Visual Mathematics for our Brain and Learning. J Appl Computat Math 5: 325. doi: 10.4172/2168-9679.1000325

Common Core Math: How to Help When Your Child’s Homework Gives You Anxiety. (2020, February 12). Family Education. Retrieved from https://www.familyeducation.com/school-learning/common-core-math-help.

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