Math Anxiety: Understand and help your child Overcome it using different Methodologies

“As a student, I always thought that sweaty palms and a knot in my stomach were normal physiologic responses when beginning a new chapter in math class”

– Suryansh, a parent

Did you ever feel the same when you were studying in school? Or do you still feel this pressure whenever you encounter any Math problem?

A lot of people feel the anxiety towards Math. Be it, young children, or adults, Math has always been one daunting subject for everyone. There are few people who actually like the universal nature of Math. I am one of those but this wasn’t the case during my early childhood.

I can recall one incident when I had a lot of stress to perform well in a Math test as I couldn’t perform well in the previous one. On the day of the test, I felt sick and couldn’t attend school. My parents could sense that it was the fear of Math and the stress to perform well, which made me sick. This was when I was in 5th grade. At this early age, I started developing the fear because of which it took a lot of time for me to understand and overcome it.

What is Math anxiety?

Mathematics anxiety is defined as feelings of tension and anxiety that interfere with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems in a wide variety of ordinary life and academic situations. Math anxiety can cause one to forget and lose one’s self-confidence.

According to the research study undertaken by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) 2017, students of grade 3rd, 5th, and 8th have deep-rooted phobia in their minds for Math which disrupts their cognitive processing.

How does a child develop Math anxiety at a young age?

There are a number of reasons due to which anxiety develops at a young age in children. I have listed down a few major ones.

  • Abstract Nature of Math: Math is one particular subject which is abstract in nature and requires a lot of hands-on and experiment-based approach.
  • Prior Negative Experiences: When a child had some prior negative experience while learning Math at school or at home
  • Inability to Visualize: Inability of children to visualize mathematical concepts may lead to serious misconceptions at an early age
  • Memorizing Math Concepts: Children have been taught to memorize mathematical concepts without actually working on the problems and understanding the reason behind it. This adds up to their increased level of Math anxiety.
  • Lack of Peer-learning: It makes the learning process very dull and boring
  • Pen-Paper based Learning Approach: This kind of approach towards Math makes it look fearsome for an early age child.

Effect on the child if you ignore it

In the short term, if we don’t address the problem then the child will start disliking the subject and it will reflect on their academic performance.

And in the long term, we will be obstructing the child to develop skills which are required to prepare them for future jobs and job success.

According to the survey by The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD),

“Numeracy skills are used extensively in work settings worldwide. Across participating OECD countries, 38% of workers aged 16 to 65 report using fractions at work at least once a week, 29% simple algebra or formulas, and 4% advanced math (OECD, 2013a)”

According to the research, the demand for science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) professionals is predicted to increase.

Tips for you as a parent, to help your child

Now that we know, that children experience Math anxiety, and that anxiety is associated with a lot of factors as talked about earlier, how can you as a parent help your child overcome it?

According to the research, the child’s self-esteem and mathematical confidence are related to his or her parent’s perceptions and expectations than to the student’s own achievement record.

  • Activity-Based Learning: Focus on an activity or a group of activities that can help your child explore relationships, solve problems, and see Math in a positive way
  • Little Encouragement will do Wonders: Encourage your child’s interest in Math and constantly tell them that they can also succeed
  • Keep a Check: Ask your child about their progress in the learning. Let them know that you care about them.
  • Share: If you also had any anxiety or fear about anything or any subject then share it with your child so that he/she can openly talk about it. This way you can get to know them and help them better.
  • Observe: Keenly observe your child’s behavior so that even if they are not comfortable in talking, you know about their change in behavior due to the anxiety.

Besides the points that I talked about, different pedagogical processes have also been found helpful in overcoming Math anxiety apart from the factors above

What will be the best innovative learning approach for your child?

In the words of Sir Ken Robinson, a renowned British Educationalist,

“There are three principles on which human life flourishes, and they are contradicted by the culture of education under which most teachers have to labor and most students have to endure.

The first is this, that human beings are naturally different and diverse

The second principle that drives human life flourishing is curiosity

And the third principle is that human life is inherently creative”

-Sir Ken Robinson

In order to cater to the diverse needs of learning styles and creativity, different innovative approaches came into play. I am sharing a few of them with you so that you know what’s best for your child.

1. Blended learning– In this learning method, a child learns via electronic and online media as well as traditional face-to-face teaching.

2. Game-based learning– It is the best way to capture a child’s interest along with meeting educational purposes and other skill development. Games provide ample opportunities to inquire, explore, and interact during problem-solving

3. Computational thinking-It develops a child’s problem-solving skills by looking at challenges as computers would and then uses technology to resolve them.

4. Experiential learning– This kind of learning method involves active experience, inquiry, and reflection. It lets the child apply the knowledge acquired, to real-world experiences.

5. Embodied learning – This method focuses on a child’s non-mental factors involved in learning, and that signals the importance of the body and feelings.

In my personal experience, it took me 5-7 years to overcome Math anxiety. So be patient with your child. Share your own experiences with them, make them feel comfortable to talk about their fears. Every child is unique and has different ways of learning. All you have to do is to cherish their individuality and provide them the right environment to flourish.