Just recently I was working with a student who has been struggling in math. She understands the concepts and process of math. To her credit, she actually has a good solid foundation in math except for one little thing…she never memorized her subtraction math facts so she relies on her fingers when subtracting. She is so embarrassed to use her fingers as her calculator she hides her hands under the table so no one else can see her. In turn making the process of quick math really slow. As one can imagine, when the mad math minute comes (we all remember these…how many math problems can you do in one minute), she completely panics and tries any method she can to come up with the answer as quick as possible.
As I was analyzing the situation and talking it through with her, she simply said, “I just can’t do subtraction.” She has become so overwhelmed with the lack of her abilities in this one area she has shut down and refuses to believe she can do it. Over our last few educational development sessions, I have brought subtraction back down to a level where she is successful, even enticing her by writing silly phrases on the top of her math fact pages. Sometimes things just need to be brought back down to a level where a child can regain their confidence in order to succeed.
Here are a few things we can do as adults working with children to facilitate and promote confidence in children:
- Set the child up to succeed. Take a step or two back. They can’t subtract double digits, but they can subtract single digits. Start with the single digits where they can be successful. Build a more stable foundation and add to it a little bit at a time.
- Help them lose the label. My student’s label was, “I can’t subtract.” She lost that label when she realized she CAN subtract numbers! Tell the child when they have made progress!
- Give them responsibility. Every child feels success and confidence when they complete a task. After a child has completed their assignment, give them an opportunity to check it. Self checking is a great tool for children! They can correct their own mistakes without someone else doing it for them.
- Encourage them to express their feelings. Let them know it is okay to get frustrated or celebrate a victory. Allow them to take ownership of their feelings.
- Be positive! Cheer on their small steps.