Why Your Child Might Have Mathematical Anxiety and How to Overcome It

May 27, 2021 / Parent Resources

Stanford University mathematics professor and best-selling author Jo Boaler says that mathematics is one of the few subjects with the most damaging ideas. It is a subject, that she says, makes kids feel early on that they’re not cut out for.

According to her, more than half the population severely doubts their mathematical abilities. But what are the causes of math anxiety?

Emphasizing on Math Facts

Boaler believes that the best way to learn math facts is not through memorization or timed tests, but through actually exploring numbers. When kids learn to have fun with the subject, learning math facts comes organically to them. A very traditional approach to teaching math fact games makes kids feel like they have no control over their learning. When they feel more respected as thinkers who’ve got their own ideas, they start to like the subject a lot more.

When kids play Osmo, they start to love math. Since they get to interact with actual handheld pieces, the learning is hands-on. This means that they are very much in control of their learning, and don’t need to memorize anything. The more they play, the more they develop core skills.

Valuing Speed Over Effort

Boaler finds that most classrooms value speed over effort. When teachers ask a question and then pick the first child who shoots their hand in the air to answer that question, they could be making the class feel pressurized to solve a problem as quickly as possible. 

Not Giving Importance to Struggle

Struggling with a problem is actually an indicator of increased brain activity. It shows that you’re putting in a lot of effort and that should be commendable. Boaler says to her students that she wants them to struggle because it is good for them. This reduces stress and even helps them cope with their mathematical anxiety.

You’ll find it interesting that a 2008 study showed that students who were given more open-ended, challenging math problems outperformed the ones who weren’t given those questions.

A Fear of Making Mistakes

Psychologist Carol Dweck said that when kids make mistakes, they grow a synapse. These synapses are key to the brain’s functioning.

Additionally, a 2018 study showed that when you make a mistake, it sets off productive brain activity. This means making mistakes is good. But most kids fail to realize that. How can you create a mistake-friendly environment for kids to reduce mathematical anxiety?

  1. Avoid grading papers fully: It would be better if you could grade only a certain percentage of answers instead of grading the paper entirely. This could definitely help kids with math phobia.
  2. Incorporate student interests into the classroom: You could use surveys to get to know your kids better. Based on those interests, you could teach them concepts in the way they want to be taught.
  3. Identify self-destructive thinking: Did you know that the fear of numbers that students with mathematical anxiety feel is pretty much the same amount of fear they people feel at the sight of a snake? Kids have this fear because they self-destruct when they see a math problem. They say to themselves that they are stupid or incapable. They must try to replace these thoughts with those that say “I’m learning”.

Osmo’s self-paced approach to learning helps replace those feelings of self-doubt with positive ones. Since feedback and instructions are provided at each step, children grow to have a stronger grasp of the concept. Plus, they make lots of virtual friends along the way!

Dealing with math anxiety isn’t easy. We hope that these causes of math anxiety and solutions might help your child get rid of their fear of figures slowly but surely.