- Does your child suffer with Maths Anxiety?
New Report shows that many children do not make progress because of stress and anxiety surrounding maths.
Does the rather tricky looking equation pictured above fill you with fear? If so, you are not alone as studies suggest that up to 60% of the population have a negative attitude to maths and many people openly admit to being “useless” at maths.
New research from Stanford University in the USA reveals that the brains of those who suffer with maths anxiety are affected in a similar way to the brains of people with phobias. With around 2 million children understood to suffer to some extent with maths anxiety, what can be done to help?
How can you tell if a child has maths anxiety?
- Children with this condition will clearly have a negative attitude to maths.
- They will have very low self confidence when dealing with maths problems.
- They may try to avoid maths and worry excessively about tests.
- They may have a defeatist attitude towards maths.
- They may be very nervous of learning new concepts.
As a teacher I have seen this condition on numerous occasions and really empathise with children who have it as I loathed and despised maths at school. One of my most vivid memories of primary school is feeling physically sick in a lesson because I didn’t understand long division. The teacher had done one example on the board and the class then sat in silence and worked alone from a page in Longman’s Maths. I sat and watched all the other pupils with their heads down, silently getting on with their work and felt sick, miserable and close to tears. I didn’t dare put my hand up to ask for help in case I looked stupid and besides, the teacher was working at her desk, not really paying attention to the class. Eventually though, she began to make her way around the room, marking work as she went; when she saw my blank page she went mad! So not only was I completely confused, I was now the centre of attention for my perceived stupidity.
Hopefully the days of primary aged children working from books alone and in silence are long behind us but anxiety surrounding maths remains a huge problem. How many parents have heard the phrase “lacks confidence” or “doesn’t enjoy maths as much as Literacy” at Parents’ Evenings? I know I have and I know I have used those phrases as a teacher! Maths anxiety differs from specific learning difficulties, such as dyscalculia, as it is an acquired response, whereas dyscalculia emerges at a very early age. Furthermore maths anxiety can be specific to particular topics within maths such as fractions or algebra.
How can we help children with maths anxiety
As a parent you will most likely be aware if your child has a negative attitude to maths. You may have been told at school that your child lacks confidence or is struggling in lessons. Once anxiety sets in it becomes it can be difficult to alleviate as it makes it considerably more difficult to be open to learning. If the brain is sending panic messages it is not in optimum mode for understanding fractions! We have all had that rabbit in car headlights moment when you freeze and cannot think of the answer; for some children that is how they feel in maths.
Experts agree that children with maths anxiety need to have the anxiety problem treated before they can really get to grips with their maths difficulties.
- Breathing and relaxation techniques can help and research has shown that brains can solve maths problems more easily when people are relaxed.
- Encouraging a more positive attitude to maths is helpful, if you have a negative attitude to maths your child may pick up on it.
- Help children to fill in gaps they may have with basic skills; it is very difficult to make progress if children don’t have a firm grasp of previous learning. Working as part of a small group is often effective.
- Try different learning styles, use real food to demonstrate fractions or play maths games to keep learning fun and lighthearted.
Unfortunately with schools being so driven to reach targets it can be difficult to spend the extra time some pupils need to go over basic skills and some can get left behind with that relentless push towards level 4 at the end of Year 6. Peter Lacey of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics says:
If you say slow down, ministers get concerned, but if you want to build a tall and secure house, you make sure your foundations are right. Sometimes there’s a rush in the earlier years of teaching that interferes with children gaining real confidence – once it goes wrong at that stage, everything afterwards is insecure. The pressure to get children to a particular level in tests at 11 can mean teaching them tricks to get good outcomes rather than making sure they are confident in their understanding.”
Having suffered with maths anxiety myself at Primary school, I have always gone out of my way as a teacher to reassure children who have similar problems; in fact it was one of the reasons I wanted to become a teacher – to try to ensure that children didn’t feel like failures at maths! I always tell my pupils that I wasn’t great at maths at primary school so that they know I can understand how they are feeling. I do however stress that a positive attitude is really important and that I worked hard to overcome my maths problems. Some of the most rewarding moments I’ve had as a teacher is when pupils say to me,
“I like maths now!”
P.S. Many thanks to Mr Chapman who helped me learn to love algebra – a patient, understanding maths teacher is a precious thing!! Without him I would never learned to love, well okay, like, maths!