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The fear of Mathematics is as real as the fear of spiders… can this be true? Yes, I am afraid so! And there is more… you can pass the fear of Maths onto your child. In fact, most parents who had Maths anxiety as a child will pass it onto their children.

The condition of Maths anxiety can range from general distress and mental inefficiency to complete panic and physical anxiety when faced with a mathematical problem. For many children, Maths anxiety results in a cycle of failure because increased worry results in decreased success.

But why do some children develop this absolute fear of Mathematics?

The most common causes of Maths anxiety

This lies in the hands of the three main players in this game:

  1. The first culprit is normally, unfortunately, also the same person looking for answers, i.e. one (or both) of the parents of the child. Most adults who suffered from a fear of Maths tend to share, and maybe overshare, that feeling and perception of the subject with their children. The effect of this behaviour is the same as any other behavioural patterns of a parent: Their children will associate with it, copy it and proudly label it as a family characteristic.
  2. The second cause of Maths anxiety is often a Maths teacher with a military, time-limiting approach to teaching. Most of us can remember a Maths teacher who stood in front of you, staring in your eyes while demanding the answer of 7 times 8. Of course, many numbers come to mind then, except 56. These teachers create the association of urgency, stress and death-defying accuracy with the subject Mathematics.
  3. The third cause often lies with the inherent personality of the child. Children who feel insecure and shy in a class environment can feel immense pressure in a Maths classroom. Here they are forced to either collaborate with other children, ask the teacher for help or even worse, give answers in front of the whole class. This fear of public humiliation is one of the corner stones of Maths anxiety.

How to conquer anxiety to improve Maths Marks?

Now that you have a better understanding of the causes of this anxiety, how can you, as a parent, help your child? There are many ways:

  • Start by analysing and discussing your own (as well as your spouse’s) attitude towards the subject. If your child already knows that you didn’t do well in Maths or hated the subject, stop sharing those thoughts with your child. Give them a chance to experience the subject for themselves.
  • Focus on the fun moments when doing Maths and use your sense of humour. Don’t add 2 apples and 3 apples – add 2 pink unicorns and 3 pink unicorns. Whatever you as a parent know would change the moment to a giggle… or even just a smile.
  • Most importantly, do not expect results from your child that you could never achieve yourself (I had to add this, as it was probably the most common behaviour of parents I had encountered over many years as a Maths teacher).
Abacus for maths learning

Abacus for maths learning

The first step to learning Maths: Maths games

Now it’s time for you to start creating the analogy between Maths and any (other) game your child loves.

  • Start to create the perception with your child that Mathematics is just another game, like Monopoly or soccer. All games normally share three components: rules, winners and the power of practice. Those three components are also the basis of the Mathematics game.
  • We have our own symbols, theorems and formulae in our game of Mathematics – just like the rules of any other game. Make sure your child knows the rules well. (If you can’t think of any rules, there are always the ever-so-popular times tables).
  • There is always a winner in Mathematics… if you get a sum correct, then you are the winner! The more you win, the more you will Start with easier questions to ensure that your child can win the game.
  • Don’t ever punish your child for a poor Maths result. He would have done the best he could in the test, would he not? So, why punish him? Instead, help him to prepare properly for a Maths test by making sure he knows the rules and he practices the “game”. When he gets his results, focus on the number of “games” he won, i.e. how many sums were correct? Coaches reflect on games in order to focus on strengths and weaknesses… so do the same with your child’s Maths test.

Promoting the analogy between Mathematics and any game has proven very successful in dealing with Maths anxiety, and improving maths marks. It can help your child see Mathematics as just another game and remove the anxiety attached to the subject. Keep in mind, though, that any good player will always feel some form of anxiety before playing any game, but it should be a positive form of anxiety and not a paralysing, negative form of anxiety.

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