First grade children sometimes get it. Six out of ten university students have it. It can cause one to forget, or lose, one’s self-confidence, resulting in an endless loop of poor performance. It can affect a person’s grades, self-esteem, and career choices, and the impact can last their entire lives.
Math anxiety is defined as feelings of tension and anxiety that interfere with the manipulation of numbers in a wide variety of ordinary life and academic situations. This includes nervousness about a math test and goes way beyond!
It’s important to note that math anxiety is not a reflection of a student’s true ability in math — but it must be addressed or it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. See below for some strategies to help your student overcome their math anxiety.
- Think of math as a foreign language. To become fluent, one needs practice and repetition on a regular–preferably daily– basis. Like learning another language, even a half-hour of daily math practice can go a long way. Math avoidance goes hand in hand with math anxiety, so daily practice is also an antidote to this unhelpful tendency.
- Learn the basics. Because math is an accumulative discipline, a student without a solid arithmetic foundation will have trouble going any further. Helping your student to learn, or relearn, the more simple concepts is often a significant step in reducing math anxiety.
- Control emotions and self-talk. The very thought of doing math can make a math-anxious student feel fearful and incompetent. Your student’s first job is to employ calming techniques, perhaps with breathing, centering exercises, or gentle movement. Help him or her to notice negative self-talk and turn it around to positive messages.
- Help your student to look upon math in a positive light. Many games, such as card playing, Life, Yahtzee, Battleship and Tangrams use math concepts in an enjoyable way. Use math humor wherever possible and bring math to life in pleasant everyday situations.
Shameless plug: a professional tutor can be an invaluable aid in addressing your student’s math anxiety. Their expertise and encouragement can create a whole new perspective – one of confidence and ease around math.