Math Anxiety: How to Help a Child Overcome It


Math anxiety is a feeling of tension and worry that interferes with a person’s ability to solve math problems. Researchers distinguish it from general anxiety or exam anxiety, although this may overlap.

This math- related anxiety usually develops following a series of bad experiences that trigger negative thought patterns in relation to one’s math potential. These thoughts can manifest themselves as an avoidance of this subject or a feeling of helplessness as soon as one is confronted with an assignment on the table.

It is a problem common to many young people and adults that can also be observed in children from the age of 5 years.

According to Jo Boaler, a math professor at Stanford University , in 2012 almost 50% of adults were anxious about math. The Department of Education of the State of Victoria, Australia , suggests lower proportions, between 6 and 17%. However, the average rate found in all university studies is around 20%.

So what can you do as a parent to help your child overcome these apprehensions and not panic during a homework or an exam  ?

Recognize successes to build trust

Most young people would like to do well in math . When they are very young, they certainly perceive how important it is for their parents. If they are older, they know this will be a key factor in their job search and career development.

One of the main sources of this math anxiety is the negative feedback students receive about their skills, despite all the goodwill invested in doing well in math. This can come from simple comparisons with their peers or, more formally, from poor grades.

To reduce these tensions, the important thing is to focus on the positive aspects of each situation, helping your child to clearly identify what he has achieved. These experiences are essential to pave the way for further success .

One of the easy ways to make your child aware of his progress is to ask him to redo a series of exercises from the last or even the penultimate school year. When grading, emphasize the strengths of his work to help him gain self-confidence. These positive experiences will serve as support for tackling more complex tasks.

School knowledge useful in everyday life

The stress of assessments and exams can be exacerbated by overemphasizing their importance. Before these deadlines, it is more constructive to explain to the child that he will not be judged on these results. If the upcoming tests are at the center of all conversations, it will only increase the pressure. It is better to limit the discussions to the times of revisions.

Parents may be tempted to let children manage their revisions on their own, especially since the periods of confinement when they had to become more actively involved in teaching matters may have created tensions. However, this attitude is not the most conducive to relieving math anxiety. It is better to accompany the youngest in their homework . As for the older ones, the main thing is to show them that we are interested in the work they are doing. Teenagers won’t necessarily be very enthusiastic the first time you offer to help them, but it’s important to let them know that you’re there if they need you and that you’re not trying to judge them.

In this way, young people realize the value their parents place on their activities and believe in their learning abilities.

Nor should we underestimate how parents’ attitude towards math influences that of their children . Try to have positive conversations about this material and how we use it every day. For example, you can mobilize math with them to determine what would be the most advantageous purchase on the supermarket shelves, or use the notions of length and surface to choose the arrangement of furniture in a room of the house. This can help to dispel apprehensions such as “it’s too difficult”, “this is knowledge that is only useful in school”.

Author Bios: Benjamin Zunica is a Lecturer in Secondary Maths Education and Bronwyn Reid O’Connor is a Lecturer in Mathematics Education both at the University of Sydney