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Does My Child Have Math Anxiety?

By Daniel Ansari, PhD

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Question: My 9-year-old gets upset and stressed out when doing math. I was told math anxiety might be the cause. What is math anxiety?

Answer:

Math anxiety is an intense feeling of stress or worry when you have to do a math task. It can happen at school or at home. For example, kids may feel anxiety in class when teachers explain a math problem or when they have to do math homework. Or when they compare themselves to their classmates.

Everyone feels anxious sometimes. A little stress about a math assignment can even help kids be more productive. But math anxiety is different and more serious. It can cause kids to avoid math, lose interest in school, or even do math problems wrong when they know the answers.

Math anxiety isn’t a diagnosis, but this fear of math is very common. Researchers believe about 3 to 5 percent of kids experience math anxiety.

We don’t know exactly what causes math anxiety. We do know, though, that having just one bad experience with math doesn’t cause it. There’s also no evidence that speed drills or standardized tests cause math anxiety.

Math anxiety runs in families, so genetics may play a role. Repeated bad experiences with math could, too. Having underlying trouble with math, or a math learning difference, can also lead to math anxiety.

Trouble with math and math anxiety aren’t the same thing, though. Some kids with math anxiety are actually very good at math. Anxiety about something doesn’t mean someone isn’t good at it. But some kids may struggle with math and have anxiety about it.

Understanding basic math concepts can help ease math anxiety. But it’s just as important for kids to feel confident about their ability to do basic math. This helps kids feel less self-doubt.

Your child’s teacher can help you understand what your child needs to work on, and how. What you don’t want to do is completely remove math if your child is feeling anxiety. That’s not helpful. As I mentioned, some stress can be good.

The goal is for your child to feel the right level of challenge—without being overwhelmed. I know that’s easier said than done. But having the right balance is the most important thing.

Look for patterns in your child’s behavior. What types of math tasks seem to make your child anxious? What is the teacher seeing at school? Pinpointing triggers can help you and the teacher find solutions.

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  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Email
  • Text Message
  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom