Conquering Math Anxiety
It’s 1:11 pm and you’re watching the time pass unbearably slow on the clock. Tick. Tick. Tick. You are desperate for 1:15 pm to roll around because Mrs. Davis is returning your most recent calculus exam at the end of class.
You feel sweaty, and your heart is racing. You think, “What if I failed the test? What will mom and dad say? Math is the worst. Why am I so dumb?”
Math anxiety is a significant issue for children and adolescents.
For parents who aren’t familiar with this concern, math anxiety has been defined as “feelings of tension and anxiety that interfere with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems in a wide variety of ordinary life and academic situations”. (p.551; Richard & Suinn, 1972).
Individuals with high levels of math anxiety are more likely to avoid math to temporarily relieve their anxious thoughts and feelings. However, by avoiding math, you lose opportunities to practice and improve math skills.
“procrastinating on homework assignments or studying at the last minute is a common issue for children with math anxiety. “
Further, math concepts often build upon one another, so math avoidance negatively impacts present math performance and potentially interferes with future math performance too!
What might math anxiety look like in your child? Examples of potential things to look out for include:
- Significant anxiety regarding math tests
- Agitated appearance when working on math
- Concerns for repercussions of poor math performance (asking questions like, “Will my parents be upset?”, “How will this impact my GPA?”, etc.)
- Low self-confidence in math abilities (negative statements about math abilities)
- Avoidance of math (slow to complete math homework more than other subjects, avoid studying for math tests, etc.)
If it seems as though your child might be struggling with math anxiety, don’t fret! Consider discussing the following tips with your child to help your child cope!
1. Practice Deep Breathing When Anxious
Deep breathing for several minutes before a test can help lower anxiety. Inhale to the count of 3, pause for 1 second, and then slowly exhale to the count of 5.
Have them focus on how the air feels cool as they breathe it in slowly through their nose. Then focus on how the air feels warm as they exhale through their mouth.
2. Challenge Negative Self-Talk
Given that math anxiety can impact math performance, over time children and adolescents may not believe that they can be successful with math. When your child makes negative commentary similar to, “I’m going to fail my test” or “I’m awful at school” ask your child challenging questions.
“Math anxiety is a significant issue for children and adolescents.”
For example, have them consider what’s the worst that could happen if they fail their test, or whether or not they are jumping to negative conclusions.
Additionally, have them rephrase the negative self-talk, where for example they could say or think, “I’m not great at math, but I’m excellent at English. We can’t be good at everything!” or “I’ve studied well for this test, so I’ll do the best I can.”
3. Support and Reward Your Child for Proper Preparation
Avoiding math by procrastinating on homework assignments or studying at the last minute is an all too common issue for children and adolescents with high levels of math anxiety. Consider getting a tutor for extra math help, or ask your child if they can stay after class for extra help.
When your child does a study for an assignment in advance, especially if they did so independently, praise them and consider rewarding them. Also, note that rewards don’t have to be monetary! Consider allowing them to decide what is for dinner one evening, or what the family will watch on TV together!
Overall, make sure to monitor your child’s behaviors for potential math anxiety and try the tips discussed within this article. Don’t let math anxiety win!
Richardson, F. C., & Suinn, R. M. (1972). The Mathematics Anxiety Rating Scale: Psychometric data. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 19(6), 551-554.