Anyone who has been involved in mathematics education will tell you that there are tons of excuses out there as to why students don’t succeed in math class (and conversely, why parents aren’t comfortable helping their children with math homework). But perhaps one of the most depressing labels is that a child is just “bad at math.” This label, unfortunately, gets tossed around quite a bit (and labeled at girls an inordinate amount of time more than boys). Many see the mathematics bug as some kind of genetic lottery, where someone is born lucky or unlucky at numbers. But, as usual, the truth is much more complicated.

Ability in mathematics isn’t some inherent talent. It is actually a skill that is cultivated through hard work and dedication. Unfortunately, in the United States, many people use the “bad-at-math” label as a crutch to simply excuse the need for more work. In fact, the opposite is true. Those who need help in bringing their mathematics skills up to par need more math classes, not less. Math is one of the courses that require drill and practice for a person to “get the hang of it.” That is why more work and practice is needed for these students. A child cannot master a concept after only a few practice problems. The more computations and problems they perform, the more likely they are to master the skill.

One of the far-reaching consequences of this attitude can be found in the high-stakes competition of the contemporary job market. Other countries have taken the opposite attitude of American students. They realize that they must push themselves harder in order to succeed, particularly in jobs such as science, math and engineering. These are the peers that our students will have to compete with for these jobs and these are the reasons why our students routinely score lower than other countries in these areas.

So how should parents help to break the “bad-at-math” label? One key way is to encourage your child to do more work in math. Many parents encourage just the bare minimum when it comes to homework, when more practice, particularly with the challenging problems, can actually aid a student in developing cognitive ability. Another way to help your child is with online free fun math games. These video games with a mathematics design puts your child in a fun learning environment that can help them get extra practice every day without feeling as if they are being overloaded with work. If your child is in high school, you should also encourage him or her to take as many math classes as possible. Advanced math courses help keep your mind sharp and they show colleges that your child is willing to go the extra mile with an academic challenge as well.

As you can see, it is important to move beyond the stereotype of math as being something you are inherently born with the ability to know. Instead, it is a difficult, but worthwhile, subject that requires a great deal of patience and practice. By taking time to explain this and show the benefits of learning math, parents can help their children succeed in the future.