Many students have math anxiety. They simply have had a terrible experience with the subject of mathematics thus far. They consider it a boring and tedious subject they’d do away with in a heartbeat given the opportunity. Have you noticed your child shut down around the subject of mathematics? Do they feel inferior to their friends? Do they avoid math homework at all costs? Then they have math anxiety which is a real phenomenon and can be overcome with some effort.
Any student that struggles with mathematics has had an unfortunate event occur related to the subject at an early age usually between the 3rd and 7th grade. Usually this unfortunate event is a teacher embarrassing the student in front of the class. Other usual suspects include
- Missing a semester of school
- An injury that kept the student out of class
- Being put on the advanced track too soon
- Getting a bad math grade when all their friends aced the test.
Every single student that struggles with math without exception has had one of these traumatic events. These events enforce math anxiety i the student. When it happens the natural response is to decide that math is not their subject. That they were born incapable of doing math. It turns out there is a lot of psychology behind this sort of anxiety. When the student assumes that they are born incapable of doing math they have created an easy out for themselves. It’s safer to be born with an impediment than to try at math and fail. From this point forward the student has decided to be bad at math and will reject any evidence to the contrary, as it will challenge their world view.
This is where the math anxiety kicks in. The student has decided math is not for them, therefore will feel anxious when forced to do math because they are afraid of their lack of math skills becoming public information. This is a primal fear of being the tribe outcast and therefore is a source of real anxiety.
The good news is that the student world view of being bad at math is never based in reality. It is a false narrative caused by a traumatic experience. There are steps you can take to find a solution
- Talk to your teacher, that’s your first line of defense. Some teachers are willing to meet with your student on a weekly basis. This also demonstrates to the teacher that your student cares about their grade and wants to do better. This can have a big impact on your final grade. Having been a high school math teacher I can tell you that students that actively seek your help tend to have the final grade rounded up. If the teacher has never seen your student all semester there is no grounds to do this.
- Have your child form a study group with their peers that meets on a regular basis. Working with friends in a safe environment where your child can feel relaxed can have a huge impact. Furthermore it’s a necessary skill for survival in college.
3. Finding the right math tutor is the most effective way cure math anxiety. It is imperative that the student defense mechanism is not activated when engaging in a math session. It’s very common for parents to engage their students’ defense mechanism when trying to help. For whatever reason the parent/child teaching relationship does not go well in most cases. We constantly hear stories of parents trying to tutor their children and it ending with tears and a shouting match. If you had math anxiety before, how do you think a parent shouting at you is going to help the problem? As you can guess that’s just going to feed the false narrative and ensure a lifetime of math anxiety. A trusted companion and math expert that provides your student with a comfortable environment to make mistakes is invaluable for reducing math anxiety.
If math anxiety is what we are trying to cure, what trait are we trying to replace it with? The answer is math confidence. Confidence in mathematics is the most important trait for success. When solving complex math problems with multiple steps you have to have the confidence in your work to push through to the next step. You need to trust the work you have done in order to push through to the next step. If you are uncertain in your work you need to be able to back up and check your logic. If you are doubting yourself every step of the way you will develop math anxiety. If you believe in yourself you will develop math confidence.
The good news is it doesn’t take much to turn things around for your student. All it takes is one ‘ah ha’ moment for the tide to turn. Our math tutoring works to achieve this moment as quickly as possible! Once the student first sees and understands how to do a problem the anxiety automatically decreases and the confidence ticks up a bit. The trick is to seize the ‘ah ha’ moment and build momentum behind it. Give your student another problem just like the one they figured out. Now they are really starting to get it. Have them do 5 problems in a row like the one they just figured out. Now the confidence is building and the anxiety is decreasing. Next step; make the problem a bit harder. Give tons of encouragement along the way. Recognize every moment of success. Keep the momentum building. Give the student an assignment on the same types of problems to give them a chance to try out their new found skills on their own. Now the narrative is starting to change. Now the student starts to feel like they might actually be able to do math. The student begins to trust the work they have done and has the confidence to power on to the next step. Then your student might have the confidence to reach out to their friends in the class to work with them as they no longer feel like an outsider that can’t keep up. Your student begins to participate in class discussions instead of hiding in the back hoping the teacher doesn’t call on them. See how this works?
Math anxiety is real and cureable. There is no magic pill, it will take work. The key is to give the student the support resources they need in order to work on their math while feeling safe. I hope you have found this article useful, as always feel free to give us a call anytime at 415-312-4720. Good luck!