Overcoming Maths Anxiety

Mathematics has long been the bane of many a child’s existence. It is a subject that is deemed as crucial, time and again. At the same time, a large number of students express many emotions towards it including fear, disdain, anxiety, and plain hatred. Why does math bring out such strong feelings in children? And in teachers and parents? 

Many teachers and parents, unfortunately, have the tendency to believe that students are “just not trying hard enough” in math. And sadly, many parents and teachers often fail to notice if children have actually developed anxiety towards the subject.

Math anxiety is real. It is a negative emotional reaction to mathematics that can be debilitating. This anxiety is not restricted to tests or classroom settings only but is present in real-world situations too. The worst part is, even when students know how to solve a math problem, the anxiousness can numb them. Let’s examine the different facets of math anxiety and see how we can all better support children.

Why the anxiety?

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There could be several reasons for this:

  • Fear of embarrassment: Children who are scolded publicly by teachers or ridiculed by peers for being wrong, scoring less marks, or not performing well in math are prone to developing math anxiety.  
  • Parents’ predilections: As a parent, if you tell your kids, “You are not a math person”, “You are not good in math” or share your dislike towards the subject, it can influence them to not like the subject. Comments such as “I was never good in math” or “I can’t solve this”  can influence  kids to think, “If my parents aren’t/couldn’t be good in math, then how can I?”
  • Teachers’ attitudes: Teachers can make or break a child.  When pupils don’t understand certain concepts, the responsibility of the teacher is to help them learn and understand rather than assuming that the pupils have not tried hard enough or worked enough. Giving mathematics problems as punishment is the final straw!

How do you know if a child has math anxiety?

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Here are some common signs of math anxiety:

    – Panicking, getting irrationally irritated, or getting teary-eyed before or during math classes, tests, and exams.

    – Constantly saying, ‘I hate math, I can’t do it’ and giving up easily.

    – Coming up with excuses to avoid doing math homework or avoid going to math classes, math tests, or quiz session days.

How to overcome math anxiety?

Anxiety impacts learning big time and children could get stuck in a vicious cycle because they are anxious. If you think your child or student shows math anxiety, the first step to take is to work on your child’s emotional intelligence. When a child considers the problem unsolvable, they engage in emotion-focused coping by working to tolerate and control distress. The child’s strategies to deal with it are a part of emotional intelligence which includes awareness, understanding, and the ability to express and manage one’s emotions. A strong emotional intelligence build-up aids in children’s coping mechanisms with regard to anxiety. 

Here are a few simple steps to aid them in overcoming this anxiety:

  • Step 1: Make the basics strong

A lot of times students try to solve math problems for the “here and now” i.e. to complete the homework or to be able to score well in one test or exam. However, skill-building in math requires a strong grasp of the foundational concepts. Adopting a gamified way of learning to ace the basic skills can help the children. Activity-based learning will go a long way towards making math fun. As an example, here is a specially-designed math activity on multiplication from Learning Matters’ grade 3 ToolBox (activity kit) called Lattice Multiplication. If you’d like to know more about the math activities in ToolBox for various grades or want to learn more about ToolBox, Contact us.

Talk to your kid’s maths teacher and work together to eradicate your kid’s stigma towards mathematics. If your kid feels suffocated working in a group due to fear of embarrassment, invest time on them, and resort to individualized learning. Set aside a little time every day to systematically review basic maths concepts. The foremost thing here is to be patient with your kid and let them advance, step by step, at their own pace. A lot of times when a kid is promoted from one standard to the other with 60%, what about the remaining 40%? Ensure the kid practices the concepts he/she is weak with even after exams and is thorough with it before starting the new grade. The basics are imprinted strongly in a kid’s mind when he/she is able to recall it. Thus, one should look at a consistent and steady schedule of practice so as not to lose touch with the basic concepts. This goes a long way towards instilling confidence.

  • Step 2: Practice amalgamation of concepts

Typically, teachers impart lesson 1 and a test on lesson 1 and then lesson 2 and a test on lesson 2. But in the semester-end or term-end exams, there might be questions which require the students to use the concepts learned in lesson 1 & 2 together. Mathematics usually has problems where one has to use various concepts together. So, once children are confident with the basics, give them exercises that combine different concepts.  When students use different concepts together, it helps them build on their retention power.

  •  Step 3: Give practice tests

At times reading and re-reading the material during the revision period prior to an exam makes one numb. Typically, we tend to forget 60% of a new concept learned within a day. 

So make your kids take random math quizzes or tests at home. This will reduce the phobia towards class surprise tests as well.  Ensure you don’t pressurize kids to perform exceptionally well in these tests. These trial drills are to be conducted only to make them confident. Avoid any kind of punishment or negative feedback that could demotivate them. These tests should aid them to build confidence and not trigger anxiety.

Taking a calm and composed approach towards your kid’s learning is highly essential. The whole idea is to normalize the concept of mathematics to children. A wise man once said, “Good mathematics is not about how many answers you know..it’s about how you behave when you don’t know”. Teach your kids to be cool-headed when they don’t know the answers. With patience and a plan, you can definitely help your child overcome math anxiety. However, if you think the anxiety is severe then do seek professional counseling.

Working successfully with children, whether as an educator or a parent, requires an understanding of child development. Learning Matters conducts webinars on various relevant topics such as Helping Children Develop Emotional Intelligence.