My daughter has struggled with arithmetic for years, ever since she was supposed to memorize her multiplication tables in third grade. She has a good mind for how math works but no memory for the facts, so she regularly gets frustrated with math assignments. I have worked hard over the years to find math she could do easily (geometry was good) and to find aspects of math that were more narrative (the history of pi) - anything to keep her from deciding she was stupid and hated math. (That is a self-fulfilling prophecy I was determined to avoid.)
It worked. This year we got to a point where we weren't sure where to go next and she was unsure that she had all the background she needed. The VideoText Algebra we use has a great review of arithmetic at the beginning (to present all of it in their nomenclature), so we started that early, knowing that we would stop often to pick up anything she had missed over the years. We finally got to the point where she was starting to do "real" algebra, manipulating equations with variables in them, and we discovered that she is good at it! She likes keeping the equations neat and orderly, writing them out properly after each step. (Yay!) She likes the process, the list of things to do in a certain order, and the certainty that if she does it, she will get the right answer. Most of all, I think, she likes the ideas embedded in algebra. I am delighted that she has found some math that she likes and is good at - I knew she wasn't math-stupid! And it is really good for her self-esteem to see that she can do harder math.