Since the early 1970s, math anxiety has become an accepted psychological disorder. Math anxiety is a phenomenon defined as, “feelings of tension, apprehension, or fear that interferes with math performance.” Studies show that the anxiety is more common in females, and usually begins in early childhood. Because it can lead to an avoidance of mathematics or any mathematical function, it is rapidly becoming a problem in need of addressing. What can be done if your child, or even you, suffers from math anxiety?
*Accept it’s real. Many people are still in a stage where they do not accept math anxiety as a genuine disorder. Parents will tell their child, “Being bad at math does not mean you have a disorder. It just means you need to work harder.” However, the issue has been studied and addressed by numerous psychiatrists and psychologists, including Ashcraft and Hembree.
*Encourage yourself. You may not be the best you know at math, but praise yourself or child for the small things done right. A 70% on a test is still better than a potential zero, and if it is an improvement over the last test, praise it. Tell your child you are proud of the improvements they are making, and to keep working hard. Offer incentives to keep trying.
*Emphasize that everyone makes mistakes. If your child is having a hard time believing you, show them an error made when checking or adding up the costs of groceries. Point out that even mommies and daddies are not perfect, and anyone can make a mistake at mathematics.
*Make math relevant. It can become all too easy to allow discouragement to lead to quitting. Make math relevant. Show your child where they will need these skills later in life, and why they are vital now.
*Avoid tying self-esteem to success in math. Like any other subject, everybody performs differently. If your child is convinced that low math grades mean low self-worth, point out everything else that is truly amazing about them. Avoid letting success at math mix with self-esteem.
*Positively reinforce a child’s intelligence and skills. If they begin to feel that they are worthless for not being good at math or that they are stupid, point out the amazing English grade. Remind your child that everyone has things that they are and are not good at, and being good at math is never a requirement.
*Help prepare in advance to tests. Make your child a nice breakfast, and help them study the night before. When going in feeling prepared, it can create feelings of more confidence and lead to better performance.
While there is no set cure for math anxiety, it can be overcome. With patience, hard work, and the right amount of encouragement, any child can be made successful. Avoid negative reinforcement at all costs, and keep your child’s feelings in mind. Even the most apathetic child can feel worse about math anxiety than they ever let on.