How to build maths confidence

You are currently viewing How to build maths confidence
Resilience, embracing mistakes, being motivated and persevering are all signs of maths confidence.

One really valuable way you can help your child with their maths is to help  build their maths confidence.  With the right mindset and attitude towards maths, your child will do really well in their maths. It will enable them to become better learners, be more resilient when faced with challenges. Helping your child with their maths confidence is more about talking with your child than doing actual maths.

“Thank you! She skipped down your road with a big smile and asked if she could come back tomorrow!”

Does your child lack confidence in maths?

These are the types of messages I receive after the first session with a new student. But, it didn’t start this way. No, not at all. It started very very differently.

It started with a 9 year old girl hiding behind her mother’s back as she walked up the stairs into my home. She barely made eye contact; spoke so softly I could hardly hear; and looked at her mum constantly for reassurance. She didn’t want to be here. Not at all.

And why would she? She ‘hated’ maths. Maths made her feel physically sick. The last thing she wanted was to have more maths. 

So what made the difference? The difference was that I showed her that she could do maths and she started to believe in it herself. In that small amount of time, I hear you say? Yes, within 20 minutes of meeting me, she was smiling and starting to enjoy herself.

Why Confidence 121?

Confidence 121 is the name I chose for my tutoring business because I truly believe that confidence is the key to success. If your child has maths confidence, then they will be successful in maths. By developing confidence in your child, you are helping them to be motivated, you are helping them to rise to the challenge and you are helping them to be resilient.

What is confidence in maths?

Confidence in maths is not about being the best at maths. It is about having the right attitude and mindset. For my students, in their initial sessions, they are scared to make mistakes – this is why playing maths games helps. My students also give up easily if they feel that the maths is too hard. To build confidence in maths is about helping my students understanding that with hard work and effort, they will improve in maths. It is about realising that mistakes are something to be celebrated as they show us what we haven’t learnt and understood at this point in time. Maths confidence is about looking at something that they haven’t experienced before and having a go to see what they can do. It isn’t about getting it right.

Why is it important for your child to have confidence in maths?

When your child has maths confidence, they will be happy to have a go at trying maths questions and problems that they perceive to be challenging. They will be prepared to take risks. They will look at these problems as something to try and solve and enjoy the challenge that this brings, whether or not they can get to the end. Rather than focusing on the end result of getting the answer right, they enjoy the process of working through the question, learning from their mistakes, thinking about what their mistakes tell them and how they can use the new knowledge to retry.

How to build maths confidence in your child

Building maths confidence does take time and is a process, especially if your child is maths anxious. If your child is naturally inclined towards giving up easily, getting upset when they make mistakes, then developing maths confidence is essential for your child. Below I list some of the ways that I build maths confidence in my students and give some helpful hints for how you, as a parent, can incorporate these when you are with your child.

Strategies for building confidence in maths

1. Show your child how much they already know.

Like most children, your child probably focuses on the areas of maths that they don’t feel so great about, comparing themselves to their peers or siblings. With all of this comparison, your child doesn’t realise that they already know so much. I am always telling my students how proud I am of them. I acknowledge that they have worked hard to practise maths skills and ensure that they notice the skills and understanding that they have now. We talk about a time when this skill was too hard and how they felt and compare this to now. Your child needs to recognise that they are moving forward in their learning journey, and this is a great way to do it.

2. Start a session with something your child can do

Cuisenaire rods are one of the manipulatives that Confidence 121 uses to help build maths confidence

I always start my sessions with a review of something we have covered in the past that I know they understand. This has two benefits – firstly, it settles them into focusing on maths and secondly, it boosts their confidence immediately. This is particularly important if your child has maths anxiety. Who doesn’t want to feel like they are succeeding? Starting off a tutoring session positively means that my students are in the right mindset to learn.

3. Talk about how you learn and what learning involves

Talk about how they are not expected to know and understand everything. I often talk with my students about what it would be like if they already knew everything – to start with, they think this would be the best thing ever! But then, as we talk about it a little more, they realise that it would be really boring not learning anything. We then talk about a time that went by really really quickly. Together, we identify reasons for this – they were involved and focused, they learnt something new, they had to try hard but not so hard it felt like it was impossible.

4. Welcome and embrace mistakes

Create an environment where mistakes are welcomed. With my students, I talk about different types of mistakes and what they tell us. My students are always surprised to hear that I like them making mistakes. I explain that mistakes are really really helpful. Some mistakes show me what they haven’t completely understood yet and what we still need to work on to help them improve. For example, two different concepts, such as area and perimeter have been confused. At other times, mistakes are what we often term ‘silly’. Actually, these mistakes show that my students are working really hard and their working memory capacity has been used up, resulting in a ‘silly’ mistake. When I look at these mistakes with my student, I explain this to them and help them to understand what has happened and, very importantly, this mistake doesn’t mean that they can’t do the maths.

5. Use games

Whenever I meet a new student, I always begin my session with a game. Through playing a game, my new student is put at ease and forgets about their anxiety or reluctance to do maths. Playing maths games is a fun way for your child to learn maths facts. It is true that, to be confident in maths, being able to recall maths facts definitely makes it easier. It also helps free up working memory, enabling your child to focus on the newer aspects of maths learning. 

Example of a game used in maths tuition by Confidence 121

I use a range of different game boards involving maths questions to help my students learn their facts in an enjoyable way. I use a lot of game boards such as Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, as well as 10 sided dice to create numbers.

Ways to build maths confidence in your child

Show your child how much maths they can already do
Your child is using maths every day without realising it - help them to acknowledge this.
Talk about what learning is and what it involves
Help your child to understand that learning something new is hard and share examples of when learning was hard for you.
Encourage your child to make mistakes
Tell them that you would prefer them to try and not get all the way rather than not try at all.
Praise your child for the effort they put in, not the outcome
This will encourage your child to keep trying and not to focus so much on their scores.
Play games to help your child learn their key facts and practise basic skills
By turning the learning of facts into a game means that your child will need less repetition and it takes the pain out of learning.
Previous slide
Next slide

Catherine Rooke

A specialist international maths tutor helping children with maths anxiety, maths difficulties and dyscalculia have positive maths experiences.