Math anxiety is an unfortunately common reality in American schools and homes. All parents and teachers know the importance of math, but the reality of stress can bump up against your child’s educational needs in an incredibly damaging way in the form of math anxiety. Math anxiety is not a mental illness. Instead, it characterizes a set of behaviors and thoughts that can dramatically reduce your child’s ability to perform well in school.
Math Anxiety: What Causes Math Anxiety?
Every child has his or her weak and strong points. For children who struggle with math, however, there is an added stigma. Most children get the message that math is important for success, so children who have even a small amount of trouble with math may begin to think of themselves as failures. Stereotype threat also has a particular impact on girls. Girls often hear that they are just not as good at math as boys. Consequently, they may stop trying; their teachers may not try as hard to teach them either. There are other societal and educational factors that can cause math anxiety, but the ultimate root is frustration. A child who feels like a failure will become anxious and the anxiety will then continue to interfere with his ability to learn, thus making the child feel like he really is a failure. It’s a vicious cycle.
Math Anxiety: How To Prevent It
The best way to deal with a child’s math anxiety is to prevent it before it happens. Like all behavioral issues, once the behavior is a problem it becomes much more difficult to stop it! A few things you can do to inoculate your child against math anxiety include:
-Making math a part of every day life. Children often struggle with math because it seems abstract and foreign. Show your child how math is relevant. Encourage her to count money, show her how fractions and geometry work in real life, etc.
-Avoid stereotyping. Children pick up on stereotyping very easily. Don’t convey the message to your daughter that math is hard or that girls aren’t good at math. You should also avoid saying that you dislike, or are not good at, math or your child is likely to emulate your model and become anxious about math!
-Don’t do workbooks. While workbooks have a place in learning, forcing your child to work through pages and pages of summer or holiday break work is likely to increase math anxiety by making math seem divorced from everything that is fun. To keep your child’s mind active during the summer, instead show her math in the real world!
-Develop good relationships with your child’s teachers. A good teacher will tip you off to a potential problem before it becomes a landmine. If you’re concerned about your child developing math anxiety, a good relationship with her teacher can be your saving grace!
Math Anxiety: How To Stop It
If your child is already suffering from math anxiety, the first thing to know is this: it is your child’s anxiety, and NOT his intelligence that is interfering with his ability to learn math. Eliminating the anxiety will create an environment in which your child is more able and willing to learn. A few things to try include:
-Don’t lecture. If kids hear constantly about how important math is and are told how they won’t be able to survive without math, they’re likely to feel inadequate and thus become more anxious.
-Take a break. Give your child a few days’ vacation from math if there’s something particular he’s struggling to learn. Temporarily eliminating the pressure may help with your child’s anxiety.
-Make math relevant. Many kids struggle with algebra and fractions because they don’t understand how the concepts work in the real world. Find a way to demonstrate in concrete terms what your child is doing when he’s manipulating all those numbers on paper!
-Look into tutoring. A good tutor can help pinpoint the problem and give your child back his confidence. However, avoid overscheduling your child. Meeting with a tutor once a week is sufficient to help your child regain his confidence over the course of several months.
Math anxiety can be a challenge to deal with for students, and heartbreaking for parents to watch. But keep up your faith in your child. Remain positive and don’t feed the anxiety. With a little work, your child can still be a mathematical superstar– or at least pass algebra tear-free.