Math Anxiety: 7 Simple Solutions

Math anxiety can affect a wide range of students, despite those students' actual knowledge and skill with math concepts. And overcoming math anxiety can seem as difficult to some as the toughest trigonometry and calculus problems you can imagine. But by providing the right approach and lots of support, you can make it simple and help your child overcome math anxiety. You may be surprised to learn just how it's done. Learn what to add, subtract, take away and carry over when it comes to helping your child feel comfortable with math.

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By Keren Perles

Does your kid freeze under the pressure of math tests? This normal yet frustrating condition is math anxiety. “Math anxiety seems to rob people of the brainpower they could otherwise use to perform well on, say, a math test,” says Sian Beilock, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago and author of Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To. Fortunately, you have the power to reduce math anxiety. Learn how!

Change Your Attitude

First and foremost, make sure you’re not communicating negative feelings about math. “If parents communicate that they don't like or are not good at math, children might pick up on this anxiety,” Beilock says. If you do feel that math is boring, take some steps to show your kid, and yourself, how it can be fun. We have an abundance of activities and worksheets that put a fun spin on math.

Introduce the Math Muscle

Many view math as an inborn skill, not one that can get better with practice. Teach your child that she can improve her math ability by working at it, just like building a muscle. “The idea is to communicate that a poor performance is not the result of not being a math person, but that, with more practice and effort, a child can get better at those problems that are difficult for him to tackle,” says Beilock.

Provide Role Models

Your child may believe she has nothing in common with “math people.” Finding a role model who enjoys math, either in her personal life or through history, can go a long way toward making her feel more comfortable with the subject. That might mean finding a female role model for a girl or a minority role model for a student of a specific ethnicity. History is full of people who used math to affect culture in practical ways.

Lower the Pressure

Talk to the teacher about keeping your kid’s math experience as unpressured as possible. Ask the teacher whether your struggling student can take untimed tests or demonstrate her skills orally. “Math-anxious students tend to perform the worst when they feel they are under the gun in a high-stakes test,” says Beilock. Make sure she has opportunities to perform well when the stakes aren’t quite so high.

Record the Steps

“Simple things like having students write down intermediate steps on a test can be a good way to help ensure they don't make silly mistakes,” she says. This way, she doesn’t have to hold all the steps in her mind as she works through the problem—a good thing, because her anxiety may prevent her from remembering as well as she should.

Release Emotions

Older children may benefit from releasing their emotions in writing, especially before a big test. Beilock was part of a 2010 study that found that writing down anxious emotions before an exam can make those negative feelings less likely to interfere during the testing period.

Prep for the Test

Before a test, remind your student that this is just one test. It won’t make or break the rest of her school career. Emphasize the reasons that she should succeed, such as the fact that she studied well, did well on a sample test or demonstrated her knowledge orally already. “Getting kids to think about why they should do well, rather than fail, is one way to boost performance,” says Beilock.

Looking for some grade-specific math help? Check out our guides to math in each grade level:

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