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Struggling Math Word Problems

Struggling with math word problems?

“Math problem sums are so difficult! I don’t know how to do!”

“I hate Maths.”

Do these sound like what your child will say when they talk about Mathematics?

Let’s look at why our children are feeling that way when it comes to solving Math problem sums and how we can help them overcome these obstacles as parents.

Possible reasons that your child may be struggling with math word problems:

1. They lack reading skills

Many studies have shown that reading is highly interrelated with Mathematical achievement.

The better a child’s reading skills are, the easier it is for them to understand text-based mathematical problems. This, in turn, leads to greater mathematics achievement. (Helwing et al., 1999; Fuchs et al., 2000)

Maths word problems are basically made up of words! The words are there to give the context while the numbers are what they can work with. Just like how you need understanding before answering it correctly, your child will need to understand the problem that they see beforehand.

If your child has difficulty reading and interpreting any part of the problem, they will struggle and lose interest naturally.

What you can do to help:

Teach your child to break the long sentences they see in word problem into shorter phrases. Doing this will not only simplify the amount of information they’ll need to process at any one time, making it more manageable, but it also makes it easier for you to detect what words or concepts they are having trouble with.

Also, you can increase child’s understanding of word problems. Simply by teaching them to look for keywords in the question and their meaning. This will help them see how to translate what they read into Mathematical sentences better.

If your child needs help visualising what they’ve read, getting them to draw bar models for the problem is a good way to help them.

2. They feel overwhelmed

Some children get overwhelmed when they see large chunk of words and numbers.

To them, the longer the paragraph is, the more difficult the Math problem must be. As a result, they might feel lost and give up before trying.

What you can do to help:

Tell them that long word problems just looks scary, but not all of them are hard to solve. As they are doing their Math revision at home, prove it to them with some examples.

If your child is facing this problem, here’s a tip. Get them to practise converting the English sentences they see into Math equations to help shorten the problem. Encourage them as they work through long Math questions and they are going to develop a positive feeling towards problem solving over time.

If your child doesn’t know where to start problem-solving, give them some thinking tools to work with. This is where some common Math heuristics such as listing, making assumptions etc might help.

3. They have a short attention span

Children have short attention span, yet most problem sums are long and complex.

Sometimes when you hear things like “I don’t know how to do.” or “I don’t understand this Math problem.”, it might just be your child saying that “I’m lazy to read everything.”

Children who lack patience often solve word problems by scanning the question and assuming what is given or what is asked. Because they did not spend enough time reading the problem carefully, they might end up misinterpreting the question or making unnecessary careless mistakes and end up feeling frustrated.

What you can do to help:

To help our children to develop patience, set a goal for them do a small number of Math word problems during each revision session. Know what motivates your child and use that to encourage them every time they are able to show perseverance while problem-solving. As they improve, adjust the goal you set accordingly and you’ll be able to see their patience getting better over time.


Being able to solve Math problem sums is an important skill that your child is going to need to primary school.

If they have the right attitude and skills to solve the difficult problem sums in school, they’ll probably be able to apply them to any future challenges they have. So if you get this right, you’re going to have one less thing to worry about as a parent.

We hope this post has been useful. Are there any other difficulties that your child is facing with Mathematics that we’ve not covered? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll be glad to address them.

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