Helping Children Overcome Maths Anxiety
Mathematics: a subject that often elicits a range of emotional responses from students. At one end of the spectrum, there are those who relish the challenge of numbers and equations; yet, at the other, a group of learners experience an intense feeling of tension, apprehension, and fear. This feeling, known as maths anxiety, can significantly impact a child’s learning journey and future academic prospects. However, by understanding what maths anxiety is, its causes, and effects, we can effectively develop strategies to help students combat it.
What is Maths Anxiety?
Maths anxiety refers to a psychological condition wherein individuals experience undue stress and fear when dealing with maths-related tasks. It’s not simply disliking maths or finding it challenging; it’s an intense emotional reaction that can cause students to completely avoid situations that require mathematical thought. This can occur at any stage of learning and is more than just ‘being bad at maths’ – it is a complex interplay of psychological factors that disrupt the normal learning process.
Causes of Maths Anxiety
Unravelling the root causes of maths anxiety can be a complex task, as it often varies among individuals. Here, however, we’ll explore several common triggers:
Poor Teaching Methods: Traditional methods, often based on rote memorisation rather than a thorough understanding of mathematical principles, can exacerbate maths anxiety. When students are taught to memorise formulas and equations without comprehending their underpinning logic, they may find it difficult to apply this knowledge in varying contexts, resulting in feelings of confusion, frustration, and anxiety.
High-stakes Testing: The competitive nature of the current education system, with its emphasis on high-stakes examinations, creates a significant amount of pressure on students. The dread of poor performance and the potential consequences on their academic trajectory can alleviate stress levels, resulting in maths anxiety.
Parental Influence: Parents’ attitudes and experiences with maths can directly or indirectly shape their children’s feelings about the subject. If parents express negative emotions associated with maths, display their own maths anxiety, or offer undue criticism of their child’s maths abilities, this can contribute to the development of maths anxiety in the child.
Peer Pressure: Negative attitudes towards maths among a child’s peers can fuel maths anxiety. Mockery or ridicule centred on maths abilities can foster an environment where children fear mathematical tasks, exacerbating feelings of anxiety and inadequacy.
Societal Stereotypes: Stereotypes, such as the idea that only ‘gifted’ individuals can excel in maths, can engender anxiety in those who do not view themselves as inherently talented. This notion can result in students avoiding maths due to the fear of proving the stereotype correct, thereby escalating maths anxiety.
Negative Experiences: Past failures or difficulties in maths can create a fear of recurrence, leading to avoidance behaviour. Students may begin to associate maths with feelings of embarrassment or inadequacy, precipitating a cycle of anxiety.
Lack of Confidence: When students lack self-belief in their mathematical abilities, they often second-guess their work and fear making errors, heightening feelings of anxiety during mathematical tasks. This lack of confidence can be self-perpetuating, feeding into a cycle of fear and avoidance.
Gender Bias: Stereotypes suggesting that boys are naturally better at maths can generate additional pressure and anxiety among girls, leading to decreased confidence and heightened anxiety when undertaking mathematical tasks.
Unrealistic Expectations: Excessive pressure, whether it stems from parents, teachers, or the students themselves, can amplify maths anxiety. When students are held to unrealistic academic standards, they may develop fear and anxiety related to their perceived ability to meet these expectations.
Mathematical Misconceptions: Misunderstanding mathematical principles or misinterpreting mathematical concepts can lead to confusion, frustration, and fear. Without the opportunity to clarify these misunderstandings, students may develop maths anxiety.
Effects of Maths Anxiety
Maths anxiety carries a significant range of consequences, affecting not only academic performance but other aspects of a student’s life. Here are ten major effects, explained:
Poor Maths Performance: Anxiety can interfere with a student’s ability to focus, process, and recall information, thereby leading to diminished academic performance in maths. This can create a vicious cycle, where poor performance heightens anxiety, which in turn further undermines performance.
Avoidance of Math-Related Fields: Due to fear and anxiety, students may intentionally avoid courses and careers that involve maths, thereby narrowing their academic and professional opportunities.
Lower Self-Esteem: Persistent struggle with maths can lead to a decrease in self-esteem. Students may internalise their difficulties with maths as a personal failure, thereby affecting their overall self-worth and confidence.
Negative Attitude towards Learning: As maths is a foundational subject, maths anxiety can contribute to a negative attitude towards learning in general. This broad learning aversion can affect a student’s engagement and performance across multiple subjects.
Test Anxiety: Maths anxiety can generalise into an overall fear of tests, even in non-mathematical subjects. This heightened test anxiety can undermine a student’s overall academic performance.
Reduced Classroom Participation: Students experiencing maths anxiety may be reluctant to participate in classroom maths activities, ask questions, or seek help, leading to a reduced learning experience.
Increased Stress Levels: Chronic maths anxiety can contribute to heightened levels of stress, potentially affecting a student’s overall mental and physical health.
Impact on Cognitive Functioning: Persistent anxiety can have deleterious effects on memory and cognitive functions, further impeding a student’s ability to process and recall mathematical information.
Future Economic Implications: As many lucrative careers require a solid understanding of maths, avoidance of maths-related fields can limit a student’s future economic prospects.
Long-Term Mental Health Issues: If left unchecked, prolonged maths anxiety can contribute to long-term mental health issues, such as general anxiety disorders and depression.
How to Help Students with Maths Anxiety
The silver lining amidst this challenging scenario of how to help students with maths anxiety is that there are several ways to overcome this:
Promote Understanding Over Memorisation: By emphasising the ‘why’ behind mathematical concepts and fostering a deeper understanding of maths, educators can remove the fear associated with forgetting memorised facts.
Create a Supportive Environment: Teachers should strive to create a safe, supportive, and non-judgmental learning environment. This includes normalising mistakes as part of the learning process and encouraging students to view these errors as opportunities for growth, rather than failure.
Encourage Active Participation: Involve students in active problem-solving exercises, group work, and discussions. This hands-on approach not only aids in understanding concepts but also boosts confidence.
Positive Reinforcement: Praise students for their effort, perseverance, and progress, rather than solely on their ability to provide the correct answer. This shift in focus can boost self-esteem and promote a growth mindset.
Teach Stress Management Techniques: Equip students with relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or guided visualisation exercises. These strategies can help them manage their anxiety and stay calm during maths tasks.
Build Confidence: Encourage students to embrace challenges, persevere in the face of obstacles, and view effort as a pathway to mastery. Cultivating this mindset can boost their confidence and reduce anxiety.
Break Down Problems: Teach students to deconstruct complex problems into smaller, more manageable parts. This step-by-step approach can make daunting tasks appear more achievable, reducing feelings of overwhelm.
Use Real-World Examples: Applying mathematical concepts to real-life situations can make them more relatable, engaging, and less intimidating. This approach allows students to understand the practical applications of maths.
Parental Involvement: Encourage parents to convey positive attitudes towards maths, to remain patient, and to support their children’s mathematical learning journey. Parents should be guided to focus on effort and learning, rather than just the accuracy of answers.
Professional Help: If a student’s maths anxiety is deeply ingrained and is affecting their overall well-being, it might be helpful to seek professional psychological support. Therapists can help identify underlying issues and provide techniques to manage anxiety effectively.
Maths anxiety, while daunting, can be managed and overcome. By understanding its causes and effects, educators and parents can employ effective strategies to help students conquer their fears, enabling them to approach maths with confidence and curiosity. Ultimately, it’s about transforming their mathematical journey from a path laden with fear to one of exciting exploration and discovery, and with EuroKids, you can kickstart the journey towards a fun-filled learning experience, wherein we tackle anxiety with utmost care and build confidence in every child.