Maths can be a challenging subject for some children. Getting their heads around numbers, equations, fractions and more can get a bit overwhelming and become a point of anxiety. Eventually, this can build into general maths anxiety and can prevent your child from performing to the best of their ability in maths.
So, how can you spot maths anxiety in your child? How can you help them overcome it? Stick with us and we’ll discuss maths anxiety and how to help put the fun back into maths for your child.
What is maths anxiety?
According to National Numeracy, “many adults and children feel worried or stressed when faced with maths. Some of us also have physical symptoms too, such as a racing heartbeat, feeling hot and flustered, or sweating.”
Because of the strong aversion to maths problems or related topics, maths anxiety can potentially limit your child’s performance in school. However, maths anxiety isn’t linked to intelligence or ability in maths. In fact, a University of Cambridge study found that many children who experience maths anxiety performed at normal to high levels of achievement in curriculum maths tests.
This means that even if your child does perform well in maths, they may still be experiencing anxiety around the subject, which can have an impact on their overall relationship with learning and education.
Maths anxiety can impact other school subjects
This anxiety can apply to other subjects as well, like science where mathematical measurements are often a crucial part of experimentation. With a growing focus on STEM (science, technology, education and maths) as a whole subject in schools, maths anxiety can have a big impact on your child’s education.
So it’s important to understand the causes of maths anxiety, and how to spot the signs your child may be struggling. From there you can work on ways to help them with their anxiety.
What causes maths anxiety?
Maths anxiety is a bit like a spiral for anyone that experiences it, but particularly for children in school.
It can essentially be broken down into three stages:
- Poor performance in maths can lead to anxiety around the subject
- Maths anxiety attributes to further poor performance
- Poor performance caused by maths anxiety leads to further anxiety.
Essentially maths anxiety works in a cycle, where poor performance causes anxiety, which leads to a further dip in performance which leads to more anxiety. This cycle can be a little difficult to break out of once they’re in it. So it’s important to spot the signs of maths anxiety early on so you can help your child develop maths learning strategies that work for them, and help them develop a healthy relationship with maths learning.
What are the signs of maths anxiety?
Knowing that your child is struggling with maths anxiety is the first step in helping them overcome it. So what do you need to look out for to know your child has maths anxiety?
Here are some clear signs that your child may be suffering from maths anxiety.
If your child has a real aversion to maths they will try almost anything to avoid it. That involves anything from attempting to hide at the mention of maths homework or procrastinating instead of doing maths revision.
In some children, maths anxiety can be so severe that it causes physical symptoms, much like any other kind of anxiety attack. This can be subtle things like lip or nail biting to shaking, sweating and even nausea.
Has your child ever got so stuck with their maths homework that they’ve started crying? Maths anxiety can cause some children to feel helpless and give up even trying. This frustration can lead to poor temper, raging and crying.
Refusal to discuss maths
If your child would rather talk about anything but their maths homework or an upcoming maths exam, this is probably a good sign they have maths anxiety. While some children are independent learners and get on with their homework or revision perfectly fine on their own, a flat-out and consistent refusal of your help with maths homework could be a sign they’re anxious about the subject.
Overcoming maths anxiety
So now we know what can cause maths anxiety and how to spot it, but how can you help your child overcome it?
The first thing is to try to act in a preventative way when it comes to maths anxiety. As soon as your child starts learning about counting, numbers or anything mathematical, look for signs that they’re struggling. Any kind of frustration could mean that you need to slow down their home maths learning. Everyone learns maths at their own pace.
But what about other ways to prevent or help with maths anxiety?
Avoid negative maths language
Avoid unintentionally feeding into your child’s maths anxiety as well. You might think telling your child that they’re “just not a maths person” or that you were “always bad at maths too” is reassuring to them, but it actually just reinforces how difficult the subject is in their mind.
Instead, when talking about maths with your child if they’re struggling, use more positive language. Teach them that everyone learns at a different pace in maths and that they will eventually understand the parts they’re struggling with. The word “yet” can be very useful here. If your child is saying “I don’t get it”, add a “yet” on there for them.
Bring simple maths into the everyday
Outside of school, you have a real opportunity to make maths something more real and tangible for your child than textbooks and concepts written on boards can. Getting your child involved in the real-world maths that makes up your day-to-day can help demystify maths and reduce maths anxiety.
Get your child involved in cooking and measurements, teach them about money denominations when giving them pocket money or work in basic multiplication when they’re helping set the table for dinner – for example, everyone gets two pieces of cutlery and four people are sitting down for dinner, how many pieces of cutlery will be on the table?
Improve your own maths
Helping your child with their maths anxiety can be tricky if your own maths is a bit rusty. Improving your own maths doesn’t mean starting an evening course. Instead, why not take a look online at sites designed to help children improve their maths? Things like BBC Bitesize can be a great source of maths materials for children.
You don’t need to be amazing at maths, but you might find you’re not bad at the maths level your child is expected to be at. So understanding that level of maths can help you break it down for your child, so they can feel less anxious about maths.
Engage with your child’s maths learning
If your child feels like they’re facing the difficulties they’re having with maths alone, they’re likely to develop maths anxiety. So be sure to remind them that you’re there to help in any way you can.
Why not try sitting down and doing some maths learning together? As we mentioned earlier, you can use resources like BBC Bitesize to improve your own maths, but if you do that together with your child you can show them that you’re interested in their learning. That way they won’t feel like they’re taking on these maths problems alone, and start to develop some confidence in maths.
Little and often
Don’t try to push your child too hard with their maths learning, as the pressure can be the number one cause of maths anxiety. Instead of sitting them down for long sessions of maths learning that might not sink in, just do small daily sessions going over what they’re struggling with.
Ten minutes of simple maths learning a day will be far more useful to your child than one or two 30-45 minute sessions a week of going over problems that fill them with dread. Breaking up their studying into smaller, manageable chunks where you can sit with your child and learn together will help reduce the anxiety they have over maths homework.
Don’t rush ahead
Make sure you’re not trying to teach your child anything new when it comes to maths. Only go over what they’re already learning in school. Trying to teach your child maths concepts that they haven’t learned in school yet, particularly if they’re already struggling with what they’re doing in school, will only confuse them and potentially lead to more maths anxiety.
Stick to what they’re learning in school and help them get better by breaking down problems they need an extra helping hand in. Trust the school curriculum will teach them at the rate they need to be going for their age.
Getting through maths anxiety with tuition
Sometimes your child may need an extra helping hand to deal with their maths anxiety. Teachers need to keep up with the school curriculum and might not be able to slow down for children struggling to keep up with maths. This can lead to further maths anxiety as your child begins to feel that they’re falling behind.
That’s where an Explore Learning tutor can come in and get to know exactly where your child is struggling with their maths understanding. Our expert tutors can get to know which learning style works best for your child, and teach at a pace that goes only as fast as they can handle. Tutors can help break down specific maths concepts or problems so your child can see them from a different angle and gain a better understanding of maths.
If your child has struggled with maths anxiety, our tutors can help make maths less scary and more exciting for them. So why not see if Explore Learning tuition could help your child with their maths anxiety?