Before we can help our children overcome math anxiety, we must first address any negative feelings that we, as parents, have on the subject. If you have said things in the past like, “I’m not good at math,” or “I don’t like math,” remember that your child is learning this attitude from you. Communicating your discomfort with math may not only increase your child’s anxiety, it could also lower their success and confidence.
This doesn’t mean you need to suddenly change how you feel. According to Sian Beilock, a cognitive scientist and president of Barnard College, parents don’t have to overcome their own math anxiety in order to help their child succeed, as long as they change their attitude about it.
Convey a different attitude to your child
It’s easier than you think, and it makes a world of difference!
Instead of saying you’re “not a math person,” engage in math activities with your child that you both can enjoy. There are all kinds of fun ways to do this. Count things around the house, like Legos, books and number of doors. Play games that are math- and number-oriented, like Ticket to Ride, Connect Four, Set, Sumoku and Monopoly. Let your child see how you use math in everyday life. Talk about fractions when you’re cooking, and practice doubling and halving ingredients in a recipe. Work together to calculate change at the store or estimate how long it will take to drive somewhere. It’s all math!
Instead of becoming frustrated when your child’s math book confuses you, go easy on yourself. It may have been a long time since you studied math, and the books and techniques may have changed several times. Remember that when you (or your child) don’t know the answer to a question, it’s OK to say so. According to Dr. Matthew Pagirsky, a neuropsychologist at the Child Mind Institute, saying “I don’t know” can actually reduce anxiety about having the “right” answers. Better yet, he suggests, say, “Let’s look it up together and find out.”
Instead of focusing exclusively on today’s homework, recognize that math anxiety often stems from weak foundational skills. With your help and patience, your child will learn that building a strong math base takes a consistent and conscious effort. It’s often necessary to relearn or reinforce previous concepts before moving forward. If your child needs extra help, find a math learning center near you that focuses on foundational skills, like Mathnasium.
Instead of questioning the teacher’s methodology or motives in front of your child, urge your child to develop a positive relationship with their math teacher. Many children are intimidated by authority figures, but once they understand that their teacher truly wants to help them, they will be more relaxed and able to learn effectively.
Keep in mind the methodology your child’s teacher uses to teach math may differ from what you experienced as a student. This is especially true for middle school math and high school math. For example, the teacher may want your child to “show their work” in a distinctly different way than you are accustomed to. Let your child know that you trust their teacher, and that they can, too.
Instead of emphasizing speed or memorization to your child, foster a “growth mindset.” Success in rote memorization and quick calculation does not mean your child understands the fundamentals of how math works. Encourage your child to tackle math challenges and pursue different paths to solve a problem. Making mistakes along the way is part of the learning process! A good math learning program will emphasize this. If your child believes that they can become smarter, they will understand that their own efforts lead to greater understanding and math achievement.
Math is for life!
Just as math anxiety can be a barrier to learning, an optimistic approach from parents can set children up for a lifelong appreciation of math. Letting your child know that you are there to support, encourage, and even learn alongside them instills the confidence necessary to succeed in an increasingly high-tech world. When you and your child both embrace math as a tool that you use every day, there’s no limit to the fun you can have learning and practicing together!
If you reach a point where your child needs more help than you can provide, Mathnasium would love to help them learn and love math! For customized math tutoring services that help children in grades K-12 develop math skills and build confidence, visit a Mathnasium Learning Center near you.
Written by Joanne Helperin and Laura Bess.