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Five Ways Parents Can Help Their Child Overcome Maths Anxiety

Sarah@outnumber.app, Research Editor, 17 June 2020
Maths Anxiety, Growth Mindset, Mindfulness

With an education system that has prioritised linear thinking and algorithmic methods, many of today’s parents are glad to have left mathematics behind at school¹.

Nevertheless, maths is everywhere; whether it’s checking bank statements or calculating the best car insurance deal. The bad news is that our own maths anxiety can often manifest itself in our children².

Low confidence in the subject isn’t solely derived from parents. Worry can also stem from insufficient in-education support. Instead of feeling inspired and motivated, with a can-do attitude, a lack of constructive feedback and misplaced praise contributes to low self-confidence³.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways in which you can help your child overcome their maths anxiety (and likely your own at the same time).

5 Collaborative Strategies to Helping Children Overcome Maths Anxiety

1. Promote a Growth Mindset

Children with a growth mindset are more engaged with mathematics and demonstrate improved outcomes². Instead of shying away from obstacles, they embrace them, harnessing challenges as opportunities for growth. In order to steer your child away from a fixed mindset, it can be useful to compliment them on and acknowledge their learning process³.

If praise is solely focussed on the effort, your child will believe their mathematical abilities are built-in, interpreting stagnant or falling grades as proof of their incapabilities in the subject³. However, growth is about more than test scores. Maybe your child has tried a new problem-solving technique or researched a different multiplication method⁴. By praising their approach, as opposed to their effort, your child will realise that they have the strategies and resources to grow³ and overcome.

2. Explore Real-Life Maths Together With Your Child

Without context, it can be difficult for children to make the connection between the maths they learn in school and the maths required in their everyday lives. Deepen your child’s mathematical understanding and get them interested in the subject by exploring how maths presents itself in real-life with fun games and tasks⁵.

Implement maths into activities that resonate with your child’s interests to maximise engagement⁵. Investigate shapes on a woodland walk, use Lego to explore perimeter and area, or bake cakes as a way to introduce units of measurement. Demonstrate the variety of ways maths presents itself in the real-world as a way to spark your child’s curiosity and alleviate maths boredom and anxiety⁴.

3. Celebrate Mistakes as Part of the Learning Process

Mistakes are integral to the learning process and research has shown that they can actually help our brains grow⁶. However, many children attach negative emotions to making errors³, seeing them as a sign of incapability.

Normalise mistakes by sharing examples of your own². Discuss how errors provide us with opportunities to learn when we reflect back upon them. In time your child will actively use their own mistakes to their advantage, viewing them as a chance to grow rather than a cause for maths anxiety.

4. Focus on Reasoning and Strategy Over Speed

A modern-day mathematical skillset, as discussed in our previous article ‘21st Century Skills and Modern Mathematics Curriculum’, requires flexible thinking and the ability to reason. In fact, speed is not a prized skill in the digital age, with technology performing calculations much quicker than humans⁷.

Reassure your child that not all good mathematicians are fast thinkers and prioritising speed can mean missing out on opportunities to broaden knowledge. Put deep thinking into action by exploring open-ended problems together². These tasks will help your child to make connections between different mathematical concepts, as well as develop creativity, communication and critical thinking skills². These are all essential to developing that all-important 21st-century mathematical skillset⁸ and are often not cultivated in speed-based calculations alone.

5. Practise Mindfulness Techniques Together

Mindfulness encompasses a wide range of practices that are all aimed at bringing about a sense of calm, which can help to reframe your child’s attitude towards maths. Meditation is one of the more popular mindfulness-based techniques and in-school research has shown that just a few minutes a day boosts student satisfaction and outcomes⁹. Try a simple practice together by following along with a child-focussed meditation using apps such as Headspace or Calm¹².

If your child feels frustrated or stuck when engaging with maths encourage them to slow down and breathe. Breathing techniques have been linked to improved maths performance¹⁰, with focusing inward helping to calm the mind and make room for more creativity. Alternatively, ask your child to write down their maths worries before a homework task or an exam. This exercise can help your child to recognise their emotions and free up working memory for the task ahead¹¹.

If your child experiences maths anxiety, know they are not alone. However, it is possible for them to overcome their worries and begin to enjoy a subject they once feared. Create a safe environment for them to explore maths, welcoming new strategies and celebrating mistakes. Over time your child will seek out new opportunities to deepen their mathematical understanding, developing the 21st-century skills that will serve them well in today’s digital age.

References:

1. Strauss, V., 2016. Stop Telling Kids You’re Bad At Math. You Are Spreading Math Anxiety ‘Like A Virus.’. [online] The Washington Post. Available at: <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/04/25/stop-telling-kids-youre-bad-at-math-you-are-spreading-math-anxiety-like-a-virus/> [Accessed 17 June 2020].

2. Lake, B., n.d. 5 Powerful Ways To Help Kids Develop A Growth Mindset In Mathematics. [online] Big Life Journal. Available at: <https://biglifejournal.com/blogs/blog/5-ways-kids-develop-growth-mindset-in-mathematics> [Accessed 17 June 2020].

3. Gross-Loh, C., 2016. How Praise Became A Consolation Prize. [online] The Atlantic. Available at: <https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/12/how-praise-became-a-consolation-prize/510845/> [Accessed 17 June 2020].

4. Shaffer, L., n.d. Conquering Math Anxiety. [online] Scholastic. Available at: <https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/conquering-math-anxiety/> [Accessed 17 June 2020].

5. 2019. A Guide To Tackling Maths Anxiety. Pearson.

6. YouCubed. n.d. Mistakes Grow Your Brain. [online] Available at: <https://www.youcubed.org/evidence/mistakes-grow-brain/> [Accessed 17 June 2020].

7. YouCubed. n.d. Depth Not Speed. [online] Available at: <https://www.youcubed.org/resource/depth-not-speed/> [Accessed 17 June 2020].

8. OECD, 2018. PISA 2021 MATHEMATICS FRAMEWORK (DRAFT). [online] OECD. Available at: <https://pisa2021-maths.oecd.org/#Overview> [Accessed 6 April 2020].

9. Torna Roberts, S., 2016. Monk-Tested, Kid-Approved. [online] Headspace. Available at: <https://www.headspace.com/blog/2016/07/14/monk-tested-kid-approved/> [Accessed 17 June 2020].

10. Tran, C., n.d. Research-Based Solutions To Address Math Anxiety. [online] Mind Research Institute. Available at: <https://blog.mindresearch.org/blog/math-anxiety> [Accessed 17 June 2020].

11. Wen, T., 2020. The Myth Of Being 'Bad' At Maths. [online] BBC. Available at: <https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200506-how-to-tackle-your-anxiety-about-maths> [Accessed 17 June 2020].

12. https://www.headspace.com & https://www.calm.com.

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