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Get a Grip on Math Anxiety: 6 Tips for Math Success

Monday Nov 2, 2015 by Vanessa Vakharia, MA Mathematics Education

Get a Grip on Math Anxiety | Help! We've Got Kids
Freaking out at the sight of numbers? Trembling when you have to calculate the tip on that delicious dinner bill? Panicked when your child asks you for help with their math homework? It’s called math anxiety—and yes, it’s a thing.

As the founder and owner of The Math Guru, a boutique math and science tutoring studio in Toronto, I can tell you that mastering curriculum content is usually only half of the problem—if that! The other half is the poor performance caused by raging math anxiety, the type of anxiety that truly prevents a student from understanding and performing to their maximum potential.

So What Is Math Anxiety, Anyway?

Simply put, math anxiety is anxiety about one’s ability to do math, regardless of skill. It can manifest itself for a number of reasons, including comparing oneself with peers, poor instruction, a history of bad experiences with math (which I’m sure we’ve all had!), cultural stereotypes, and a number of math disabilities, such as dyscalculia.

Anxiety acts up most when we’re faced with something we’re insecure about or with something we’re already sort of scared of. For many students, math is that thing. When math anxiety rears its ugly head, what can you do to help your panicked child? Here are some useful tips on how to deal with and ultimately eradicate the evil that is math anxiety!

1. Fake it till you make it.

Studies have shown that your attitude toward math has a huge effect on the way your child feels about math—especially when you’re freaking out over their homework!

Not all of us are math-lovers, but keeping your fear of numbers to yourself is one of the best things you can do. Don’t worry, you don’t have to pretend you’re a math genius. Just be encouraging, hopeful, and whatever you do, stay calm!

2. Don't be afraid to get help.

As I mentioned, not all of us are math-lovers, and that’s okay! Lucky for you, there are a ton of ways to help your child get the help they need. Check in with your child’s school to see if they have a peer tutoring program. These are often free!

After-hours help with teachers is an underused resource—ask your child’s teacher when they are available. It’s never too early or too late to get a professional tutor. Ask friends for recommendations or do an online search to find someone in your area.

Lastly, the internet has an abundance of resources like Khan Academy or Purplemath that can help your child understand concepts that might be confusing them.

3. Reinforce the idea that hard work pays off.

Often kids feel a great deal of anxiety surrounding math because it simply isn’t something that comes naturally. Especially at a younger age, kids get discouraged because sometimes their peers grasp concepts faster than they do, making them feel as though maybe math just isn’t their thing. Show your child that the amount of work spent on something is proportional to success!

Sports, music, and most extracurriculars are good examples of this. Success in these areas doesn’t come without a ton of practice, and the same is true of math! Often, anxiety isn’t representative of a lack of ability, but simply a lack of practice, which is something we all have control over!

4. Master mindfulness.

Due to the growing number of students suffering from anxiety, mindfulness techniques are growing in popularity. One of my favourite mindfulness techniques to use with students claiming that they "suck at math" is called the reality check.

Math anxiety often gets to us by making us feel stupid or incapable, causing a lack of confidence that is essentially debilitating. Start by writing down the intruding thought on the top of a page, for example "I am a failure." Now make a list of facts that support that, and facts that refute it. Kids will see quickly that they don’t actually believe the negative thought—it is simply an intrusive distraction!

For more mindfulness strategies to introduce into you and your child’s daily life, check out this awesome Pinterest board!

5. Sneak in a confidence boost.

Math anxiety depends on insecurity for its continued reign of terror! One surefire way to beat it is to instill confidence in your child. A great way to show your child the correlation between work and success is to stage a confidence boost—sneaky, but effective!

Schedule a session for your child to work on a concept for 20 to 30 minutes, then give them a quick quiz which covers exactly what they’ve been practicing. Get super excited when they get the majority of the questions right; then rinse and repeat!

6. Praise hard work, not good grades.

The pressure to get good marks is the ultimate anxiety inducer. It is beyond important to remind your children that good grades don’t grow on trees: they are a product of hard work!

Praise your child’s work ethic regardless of the academic fruit it bears. Eventually, all that hard work will pay off.


Got a particular strategy that works for you? Please share @HelpWeveGotKids!


Vanessa Vakharia is the founder and director of The Math Guru, a boutique math and science tutoring studio in Toronto. She has her Masters of Math Education and specializes in teenage engagement in mathematics education.


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