Maths anxiety can follow students throughout life. With young children already forming a self-image of Maths failure, what can parents do to keep our children improving and working hard?
The quick answer is we can do a lot, and there is no need to be a certified IB Maths teacher to make a difference.
I’m terrible at Maths. I can’t do Algebra. I was always bad at Maths tests.
With Maths making up well over half of tuition requests, we are used to advising parents on what they can do to help.
Here are our top tips to make a positive difference:
1) Be positive about Maths at home. If you have Maths anxiety try not to let on and share it with your child.
2) Teach your children a growth mindset (more on that below).
3) Help your children see everyday Maths in the world around them. While, at the same time, showing them how it is useful to us in our daily lives.
4) Act fast. If your child declares they hate Maths, work on a solution quickly before motivation starts to disappear.
5) If you are still not able to solve Maths anxiety yourself ask the school, or your child’s teacher for help.
6) Call in the professionals for a little extra help. A Maths tutor can avoid family struggles around Maths homework, build confidence, and reinforce what the student is learning at school. Altogether this can create a positive cycle of achievement and self-belief.
Resilience is key. It is a word we hear time and time again in the newspapers, from management gurus and parenting experts. As Mum or Dad, we can often wonder how we achieve this holy grail of child development.
We aren’t all Maths experts, so how do we avoid pulling our hair out when our children are struggling with Maths?
How do we help when our children are starting to show signs of hating the subject?
What causes Maths anxiety?
As a parent of two children who have both declared at one point or another a hatred of Maths, I was inspired by a Maths specialist (Judy Hornigold). Her comments on learning Maths reminded me why we don’t have to look far to understand why children learn to hate it early on.
What causes Maths related stress for children?
Timed activities – check.
Searching for THE only correct answer – check.
Competition against other students – check.
My son’s online Maths homework had timed exercises that stressed him so much he would dive under the table to avoid doing it. If he got just one wrong there would be no gold bar for him and it would result in half an hour of tears.
We all have experiences with what causes our children stress and anxiety around Maths, and at TutorsPlus we see the results of this pressure time and time again.
In fact, let’s be honest, students learn to hate Maths because of their experiences in the classroom.
How damaging can Maths anxiety be?
It can be very serious, especially when the erosion of confidence creeps into other academic subjects too. In some extreme cases, struggles over Maths homework can start to break down family relationships and harmony.
Academics have shown that problems with Maths are complicated which can make them hard to solve for parents alone. Moreover, there is evidence that issues can be the result of not only cognitive abilities but also a general predisposition to anxiety and emotional issues.
However, there is good news too!
Recently, researchers have shown that children as young as 9 are already experts in their own experience and can be enrolled to help find their solutions with the support of parents and teachers.
So what are the solutions?
The first thing we can do is act early AND fast.
It is common for mild grumbling about a test to lead to disengagement in class and soon after that to a child giving up on Maths. At that stage, it takes more time to build back confidence and this is why early intervention is key.
So, talk to the school. It doesn’t matter who you start talking to; the class teacher, Maths teacher or form tutor. The key is to talk to someone quickly and explain your concerns. They will likely have noticed similar patterns at school and be able to help.
These discussions can be kept positive and look to work alongside the school to find solutions.
Ask yourself; does my child needs extra Maths support at school?
Different classwork or class accommodations?
A plan to help with homework?
New rewards and recognition for work well done?
Outside assistance from a Maths tutor?
Is testing for dyscalculia needed?
Parents can help at home
It will come as no surprise that one of the most powerful interventions we can make is to choose to avoid passing on any Maths anxiety we may have to our children.
There is now significant evidence that a fear of Maths can be passed on through the family. So be positive about the subject at home, and focus on the process of Maths rather than just the result. This means having the confidence to play around with numbers and calculations, even discovering the magic of Maths together with your children.
Avoid sharing any fear of Maths, just as we would try to hide our fear of other things, so our children don’t inherit those phobias from us.
Create a growth mindset
Carol Dweck created the concept and popularised it in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success. While we could write a whole blog post on this subject alone, it is all about the distinction between “fixed” and “growth” mindsets.
According to Dweck, “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.” In this way of thinking children believe they are either “smart” or “dumb” and that this is unchangeable.
Instead, if we can teach our children that our brain grows more when we fail than when we succeed easily we can grow resilience in our children. We can teach them that with a growth mindset, we can tackle problems and learn effectively in Maths.
This means we need to move away from pass/fail thinking. Instead, we need to show students we value the process. So they see that skill development is more important than the final result.
This is not to say that test results are unimportant. To get the best from our children they need time to learn without pressure so they can succeed.
For further advice or to find an experienced Maths tutor who can help.
By Sara Lloyd
Sara has been an education consultant for TutorsPlus for over 10 years and is an expert on international education. She is also a parent of two lively children.