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How to Help Kids Get a Grip on Math Anxiety

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Does your child freak out at the sight of numbers? Dissolve into a pile of tears at the thought of a math test? Throw a minor tantrum when they can’t figure out their math homework? It’s called math anxiety and yes, it’s a real thing.

As the founder and owner of The Math Guru, a boutique math & science tutoring studio in Toronto, I can tell you that mastering curriculum content is usually only half of the problem—if that! The other half is the performance barrier caused by math anxiety, the type of anxiety that truly prevents a student from understanding and performing to their maximum potential.

So What Is Math Anxiety Anyways?

Simply put, math anxiety is anxiety about one’s ability to do math, regardless of skill. It can manifest itself for a number of reasons, including comparing oneself with peers, poor instruction, a history of bad experiences with math (which I’m sure we’ve ALL had!), cultural stereotypes, and a number of math disabilities, such as dyscalculia.

Anxiety acts up most when we’re faced with something we’re insecure about or with something we’re already sort of scared of—for many students, math is THAT thing.

When math anxiety rears its ugly head, what can you do to help your panicked child? Here are some useful tips on how to deal with—and ultimately eradicate—the evil that is math anxiety.

1. Keep Calm and Math on

Studies have shown that your attitude towards math has a huge effect on the way your child feels about math—especially when you’re freaking out over their homework! That doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be a math genius, don’t worry! Just be encouraging, hopeful, and whatever you do—stay calm.

2. Don’t Compare Yourself to Fifth Graders

Please don’t freak out if you can’t do your ten-year-old’s homework. The truth is, today math is taught in a completely different way than it was even a few years ago, and beating yourself up over your inability to figure out how the heck they’re supposed to master long division is only going to stress you (and your child) out! There are a ton of ways to help your child get the help they need. Check in with your child’s school to see if they have a peer tutoring program—these are often free! After hours help with teachers is often an underused resource—ask your child’s teacher when they are available. It’s never too early or too late to get a professional tutor—ask your friends for recommendations or do an online search to find someone in your area. And of course, there’s the internet. Try Khan Academy or Purplemath, great sites for explaining concepts in a straightforward manner.

3. Give Your Child an Ego Boost

Math anxiety absolutely thrives on insecurity. Insecurity’s antidote? Confidence! A great way to pump your child up and to demonstrate the correlation between work and success is to stage an ego boost—sneaky, but effective. Schedule a session for your child to work on a concept for 20-30 minutes, then give them a quick quiz which covers exactly what they’ve been practicing. Get super excited when they get the majority of the questions right, and rinse, and repeat!

4. Hard Work Pays Off

The topic of much of the debate surrounding our education system surrounds the emphasis on getting good grades. There is so much pressure on our kids that often the quest for achievement causes serious anxiety when it comes to the actual learning part! Studies have shown that children who are taught that intelligence is a product of hard work develop a growth mindset, which is the perspective that mathematical intelligence is not fixed, but rather can be learned. It is beyond important to remind your children that good grades don’t grow on trees, they are a product of hard work! Remember to praise your child’s work ethic regardless of the academic fruit it bears. Eventually, all that hard work will pay off!

Got a particular strategy that works for you? Please share!

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