Reducing Math Anxiety

Becoming comfortable with numbers, helping your perfectionist child.

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.




Perfectionistic Daughter Wants Only A’s

My daughter doesn’t like receiving a grade of less than an A and she’s only in second grade. If she receives a B (or heaven forbid, a C), she considers herself a failure. We don’t think we have put special emphasis on grades, she’s just very perfectionistic. How can we help lessen her anxiety about grades?  

Talk with the second-grade teacher about your daughter’s attitude toward grades. Just being made aware of the severity of your child’s problem could help the teacher think of ways to handle it in the classroom. Perhaps she could receive fewer graded assignments during the year.

At home, talk about the fun things your daughter does at school and how much she has learned thus far. When she becomes upset about assignments for which she gets less than an A, point out what she can learn from understanding her mistakes. Also, when you praise your child, focus on other strengths in addition to her intellect.  

You might consider whether her worry about grades is a new problem. If her focus on being an “A” student also created anxiety last year (to the point of distraction or tears), your child could be exhibiting perfectionist tendencies or even obsessive-compulsive disorder. According to, “Kids with OCD worry a lot. Sometimes they feel afraid that bad things could possibly happen to them, sometimes they feel that something bad could happen to people they love, or sometimes they feel like they have to get things “just right” and have to check to make sure.” While OCD is not that common, a chat with the school psychologist should give you solid advice about additional ways to help your child.


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