Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Dear Teacher
Kids who quit too easily, falling behind in math, and overcrowded classrooms

January 01, 2013

How to Stop Children from Being Quitters

Question: How can I help my third grade son who just gives up at the first sign of difficulty? What can I do to help him stop being a quitter? – Cheerleader Mom

Answer: Children usually start giving up after experiencing a cycle of failures at school. Your son is only in the third grade; he more than likely wants to do well in school. Very sadly, not all bright children succeed in school. Some begin tasks very halfheartedly and give up at the first sign of difficulty. Psychiatrists call this "learned helplessness." It can happen in the early grades because of emotional immaturity, low frustration level or over-dependency on adults. It also can happen when children start fourth or sixth grades because these are points when learning requires more effort, and some bright children have no strategies for handling difficult assignments and give up too quickly. It's not easy for these children to overcome the tendency to give up when the going gets tough, but they can with continued help from teachers and parents.

By modeling how to approach a problem and giving specific instructions at every step along the way, parents can help their children learn how to tackle difficult assignments. They will need to teach them:

- Effective problem-solving strategies

- To look for more than one approach when solving a problem

- To retrace their steps to find errors

- To use self-talk as a guide for solving problems

Help for 6th Grader Failing Math

Question: My granddaughter failed math in sixth grade and got a failing grade the first semester this year in seventh grade. She hasn't mastered multiplication, and her addition and subtraction skills are poor. She has just been passed along. The school did not have summer school, and the teacher is a poor communicator. I'm trying to work on helping her learn the basic facts. What else can I do? – Want to Help

Answer: The best thing that you can do right now is to see that the child gets the help that she so obviously needs. The individual responsible for this child, whether it is you or a parent, must immediately contact the school to see that help in math begins at once. It would be a good idea to meet immediately with this teacher. Find out why an intervention or testing for a learning disability has not been done.

If you do not receive a helpful response from the teacher, contact a counselor or the principal. This child's skills sound so weak that an individual tutor or math learning center may be needed. Nothing but serious problems in math are going to occur in the future without considerable help. How will this child ever be able to handle math in high school to fulfill graduation requirements?

You can supply some help to your granddaughter. To work on addition and subtraction, use manipulatives – counters, coins, etc. – so she can actually see problems. If she is strong enough to work on multiplication, try this technique: For a problem like 3 x 4, have her draw three parallel vertical lines and cross them with four parallel horizontal lines and then count the intersections (12) to get the answer. You will also find it helpful to search on our website for math under the elementary level, as you will find a variety of suggestions about ways to teach basic math facts, starting with addition.

Do not consider your granddaughter’s math skills strong in any area until she can solve basic addition, subtraction and multiplication facts in 3 seconds or less.

How to Cope with Overcrowded First Grade

Question: My daughter's first-grade classroom is overcrowded. The children are not getting quality instruction from the teacher, and the teacher does not have time to accomplish all that she wants to do. Volunteer parents are the teacher's only help. Who can we (a group of concerned parents) approach to improve this situation? A few of us have written letters to the principal, but nothing has been done to address the issue. – Need Advice

Answer: First grade is an extremely important year in school. During this year, time will be spent teaching children to read and do basic addition and subtraction. Realistically, the children will have wildly diverging skill levels, from those who can read to those who are just starting to learn the sounds of letters. And the same is true with math abilities. It is difficult for a teacher to make sure that every student gets all the individual help needed when classes are very large.

School districts recognize the importance of having smaller classes in the primary grades. Unfortunately, they are finding it very difficult to do so with smaller budgets. Of course, parents should voice their concerns even though it may be difficult for the school to change things.

There are some things that parents can do. They may work with the administration to set up a well-organized and trained volunteer program that can assist the first-grade teacher. They may also raise funds through the parent-teacher organization to pay for an aide for this teacher as well as others in the school.

Parents should send questions and comments to or ask them on the columnists’ website at