Reducing Math Anxiety

Becoming comfortable with numbers, helping your perfectionist child.

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As a kid, I was scared to death of math. In high school, I took the minimum number of math classes. Even today, I still dislike it. My third-grader seems to be falling into the same trap. How can I help her avoid math anxiety?   

Believe it or not, Stanford University did research on the brain activity patterns of second- and third-graders who were stressed about math. The results indicated that their brains showed patterns similar to those of people with other phobias while they performed math problems. The brains of the panicky children had increased activity in the regions associated with fear and decreased activity in the regions involved in problem-solving. Now there is actual biological evidence of the existence of math anxiety.

Unfortunately, during the research study, the children with high math anxiety were less accurate and significantly slower at solving math problems than children with low math anxiety. This is important information, as children with math anxiety tend to avoid taking higher-level math courses — lessening their opportunity to enter many careers. And adults with life-long math anxiety may find it difficult to understand such things as mortgage rates and credit-card interest.

Knowing that math anxiety is a real phobia gives hope that it may be treatable. One way to help children avoid getting anxiety about math is to make sure that they have a firm understanding of math processes. Your child in third grade is probably involved in multiplication. Make sure she clearly understands how multiplication works.

Reduce your child’s math anxiety by: making sure she has a strong background in basic math facts, have her solve easy math problems to gain confidence, and learn stress-reduction techniques. The more comfortable your child becomes with numbers, the less stress she will encounter when dealing with math.


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