Introduction

Fear of math. Does it sound familiar! If you have experienced math anxiety, you are not alone. A Times of India article published, citing the report, stated: ‘56 percent of students in Class VIII couldn’t divide a 3-digit number with a single-digit one; 72 percent students in Class V couldn’t do division at all and, 70 percent of Class III students weren’t able to do any subtraction‘. For the 2018 survey, a total of 5,46,527 children between the ages of 3 and 16 were interviewed. ( https://www.parentcircle.com/article/10-tips-to-overcome-the-fear-of-maths/ )

To several children and adults, “math” is a 4-letter word that reminds emotions oscillating from dislike and anxiety to utter fear. Math anxiety, and its more severe form, math phobia, has kept many students from studying more challenging disciplines where mathematics plays an integral role. ‘Mathophobia’ can be defined as a sense of terror, tension, and unease about one’s ability to do Math and thus, interferes with one’s performance in Math.

Symptoms to know that your child has math phobia

There are some common symptoms that can help you identify if this is the case for your child. Observe or may be asking yourself some of the following questions to see if they might have math phobia:

  • Terror: Your child tries to avoid going to math class when there’s a quiz or test. They get good grades on math homework and classwork, but not on tests, even though they understand the material and have studied.
  • Paranoia: Are they concerned that they are the only person in the world who can’t do math problems and that everyone else is smarter than them?
  • Lack of confidence: Do they second guess all the answers and rely on others to help them through the material?
  • Passive behavior: Have they given up on trying to learn and understand math entirely because they feel that they are just not smart enough?

What parents should do

Research has shown that math anxiety can develop in students as young as age 5. That anxiety can use up working memory capacity, says psychologist Elizabeth Gunderson, shutting down the very part of the brain, children need to learn and master math. And these early negative math experiences will only worsen with time.

Here are some ways parents can help their children avoid the stress about math:

1. ENCOUNTER MATH

Many children and adults feel stressed and anxious when they have to do math. People who experience the feeling of stress when faced with math-related situations may be experiencing what is called the “math fear”.  Math anxiety is more than just feeling nervous about doing math. Nervousness is a sensible reaction to a situation that is actually scary. In contrast, anxiety might not make sense. This means that a person may feel anxious even though she or he knows that there is really no reason to feel anxious. Also, anxiety can cause physical symptoms, such as a racing heart or sweating.

Having math fear doesn’t necessarily mean you are bad at math. For people with math anxiety, the stress of doing math robs them of the focus they need to buckle down and concentrate on the math task at hand. This lack of focus makes it difficult to juggle numbers in your head or keep track of information when solving problems, leading to errors.

You might also think that math anxiety only arises once math gets complex, but it has been found that some children suffer from math anxiety as early as first grade. These feelings lead them to avoid situations in which they have to do the math. Children with math anxiety often have poor math skills. Adults with math anxiety often have trouble with math in their careers and everyday life. Adults with math anxiety are less likely to show interest, enter, and succeed in careers relating to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

To help her students feel less anxious about math, Jennifer Laib used a toy stuffed frog to talk about math fears. The K–8 math specialist at Driscoll School in Brookline, Massachusetts, asked second-grade students what it meant to be “fearless” in math. Students offered up concepts like “Ask questions” or “Believe you can do it.”

When students modeled those fearless traits, they could hold the fearless frog. The result: Kids were excited at the prospect of learning from their mistakes in math instead of fearing them.

What can you do as a parent

USE INTERVENTION

Parents can use a tool called intervention to help kids fear math less. For example, some researchers made intervention based on research showing that kids if children write down their math fears before appearing for the examination, their score improves.

EVERYDAY INTERACTIONS

Everyday interactions can spark math talk and math thinking as well. Consider setting the table as an opportunity to talk about numerical and spatial relationships:

“How many plates do we need tonight?” 

“How many soup spoons if Johnny doesn’t want soup?”

“What shape are the plates?”

In an observational study, we found that parents who talked more often about number with toddlers (e.g., counting objects and telling children how many objects are in a set: “You have three trucks!”), had children with more developed math knowledge at about four years old.

2. CULTIVATE GROWTH MINDSET

To have a “growth mindset” means believing you can learn and grow in your abilities. A “fixed mindset” holds that talent is just something you’re born with. According to more than a decade of research first established by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, children with a growth mindset achieve greater academic success.

As parents, we need to understand that the growth mindset is the foundation for learning. A growth mindset is important and powerful and if you understand this, no matter what you build on that foundation, it will be more powerful.

There are two major attributes related to mindset:

  1. Beliefs: People with a fixed mindset believe that skills are born and therefore they cannot or need to learn. However, people with a growth mindset believe that skills are built, therefore can be learned.
  2. Focus: People in a fixed mindset tend to focus on performance, outcomes, and results. In other words, their main concern or focus becomes “how they look” or to not look bad. People with a growth mindset tend to focus on the process of getting better.

These two attributes have a huge influence on our ability to learn. Let’s see how.

The four major ingredients to growth are:

  1. Efforts
  2. Challenges
  3. Mistakes
  4. Feedbacks

According to research, it has been found out that people in a fixed mindset, they look at effort as a negative thing, something that you do when you are not good enough. They do not see the value or purpose of putting in the effort. They have been shown to back down and avoid challenging situations.  They get really discouraged and worked up when they make mistakes and when somebody with a fixed mindset receives feedback from parent or teacher or friend, they get defensive, take it personally and they do not see the value or purpose of the feedback.

In totality, people in this frame of mindset, shy away or avoid these four key ingredients to growth.

On the other hand, when people get into the growth mindset, they look at efforts as a useful thing, as an important part of the learning process. They embrace challenges and persevere and work through them. They see mistakes as a learning opportunity and when they receive feedback, they appreciate and use it.

Now it is time to connect these 2 major characteristics of the top mindsets and these 4 actions/ behaviors towards learning.

FIXED MINDSET

People with a fixed mindset shy away from putting in efforts because they don’t believe that they can change. They give up when they are met with a challenge and things get hard because they do not want to look bad. In their mind, the challenge becomes a threat and because they cannot believe that they can change. They hate making mistakes and get discouraged by mistakes because if you are making mistakes, you are not looking good.  They don’t see the value and purpose of feedback because they do not believe in their capacity to grow.

So, in one way or the other, every single action is a by-product of the two characteristics.

GROWTH MINDSET

People with a growth mindset see the value and purpose of effort because they believe in their capacity to grow. They are likely to take on a challenge and persevere through it because they believe that they can grow, and they are focused on the opportunity to do that. So, for them, a challenge is an opportunity to get better. By focusing on the process and believing in their capacity to grow, they are more likely to understand how important mistakes are in the process. When they receive feedback from a parent or teacher or peer, they are more receptive to it because their focus is on getting better and they believe they can grow.

Now that we have understood what it is, you must know that your child is not either one of the two. Your child is a mix of the two. They can be at a different place on this spectrum. On different days, times, and situations, one keeps oscillating on the spectrum. The term should rather be growth mind state rather than set.

What can you do as a parent?

1. Be a growth mindset role model

You will agree on how kids pick up your tiniest of verbal and non-verbal habit. Watch your words when you utter, “Oh! I am terrible at math.”, “huh! This runs in my family.”, “I cannot be better at this”, etc. There is A LOT of power in a simple word “YET”. Start saying, “Oh! I am terrible at math, YET I have gotten getting better than before.” In a situation where they give the wrong answer, say to them. “No. This is the wrong answer. You do not understand it YET.”

2. Accept your mistakes openly and encourage their mistakes

If you give out the message “It is okay to make a mistake.” Or “It is okay that you failed.”, it gives an opportunity to you and the child to work upon it and make it better. Your kids will be open to trying new challenges, won’t be afraid to make mistakes, and hide them from you and think it is shameful to make mistakes.

3. Praise the process, not the Outcome

There is also the right way to praise your child. Instead of saying to your child “Oh! You are so smart” “Oh! You are a gifted child” “You finished this task so quickly, you must be good at that”, you must praise their efforts. Try to say: “Oh! You finished this task so quickly, you must have worked hard on it”. You need to not praise them on their talent and gift. (It never works in the long run, according to so many studies), praise the effort that they put in. You may think as a parent that the praise on a good job or task will make them happy. Well, you are right about it but, in future when they make mistakes or fail at something, they will be much more disappointed and start feeling negative about themselves as well as picking up easier options in future that guarantee immediate success.

4. Teach them how the brain works

Depending on the age of your child, go ahead and talk to them about the brain. You can say to your child,” Hey, your brain is like a muscle, if you want to get smarter, you need to exercise these muscles.” The next time they take up a challenge, you can remind them how they are linking more things to each other in their brain and in return working on their brain muscle to get stronger.

5. Encourage your kids to take the hard route

It is as simple as taking the stairs, instead of the elevator. I understand as a parent you want your kids to be protected all the time. But, giving them, everything easily is a big mistake on your part. Ask them to do their own room management.

6. Stretch their Capabilities

It is also important for you to give your kids different experiences, something that they can choose from. Of course, if they are inclined towards one thing, you can support them to go deeper into it.

7. Encourage them to take risks

Encouraging them to take risks is how they widen up their comfort zone and go beyond it.

3. TAKE IT SLOW

A brief research finding from Stanford math professor Jo Boaler stated: “Timed math tests can discourage students, leading to math anxiety and a long-term fear of the subject.”

The emphasis on speed is one of the leading causes of math anxiety, says math coach Rachel McAnallen, who has held workshops and consulted with districts across the country. If students are stumped or panicked, they shouldn’t think, “I can’t do this.” Instead, help them control their fears and frustrations by teaching them ways to reproach a roadblock rather than freezing and wasting valuable time.

Nearly 50% of first- and second-grade students experience math anxiety, and forcing young kids to take timed tests when they’re not ready can backfire. However, to a larger degree, time tests are inevitable, and they are not going away from schools, universities, colleges. But, one can take measures to reduce the anxiety that comes along with time tests.

What can you do as a parent?

1) THE BASICS

First things first. It is the simplest yet most crucial part. Make sure your child-

  • Eats a well balanced and low sugar breakfast.
  • Goes to bed at a reasonable time the night before a big test.

2) PLAN IT OUT

It is very vital for you to sit with your child and make an approach. Develop a solid that will help her or him to take keep the stress away from the test process. For a writing test, it may look like:

Step 1: Read the question

Step 2: Brainstorm Ideas

Step 3: Outline. Place ideas from most important to least

Step 4: Draft your answer

Step 5: Read and correct

3) FOCUSING MORE ON INDIVIDUAL GROWTH

Kids do better if we focus on consistent, incremental improvements over their own past performances. De-emphasizing the ranking against peers will go a long way.

Dot McGee, an educationalist shared her “tactic” which was to give mad math page with a lot of problems to her class and announce at the start of it that they are not expected to solve all the problems. All they must try is to solve a greater number of problems than what they solved in the last test.

4) THE SWEET TALK

Your child must have heard an uncountable number of times how the tests and grades they take are going to define them and who they become. Try telling them that the coming test has no lasting effect on their career. (That is True)

5) REMIND THEM OF THEIR ACHIEVEMENTS

The night before the test, remind them of the scores they received in the previous tests, or something that they successfully finished in the past. Remind them of all the good memories. Now ask them of the time or paper that they flunked. (No, do it. This will help) Anxiety happens when there is a disconnect between the left side of the brain (logical side) and the right side (driven by emotions) As parents, help these sides work together by asking about extreme situations. This helps their brain make connections between their baseless fears and probable outcomes based on their past experiences.

4.  CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE TOWARDS MATH

The first step to success in math is a positive attitude. Yet that’s the last thing we can expect from many of our students. Attitudes can be seen as more or less positive. A positive attitude towards mathematics reflects a positive emotional disposition in relation to the subject and, in a similar way, a negative attitude towards mathematics relates to a negative emotional disposition. These emotional dispositions have an impact on an individual’s behavior, as one is likely to achieve better in a subject that one enjoys, has confidence in or finds useful. For this reason, positive attitudes towards mathematics are desirable since they may influence one’s willingness to learn and also the benefits one can derive from mathematics instruction

Attitude is really important,” said Lang Chen, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral scholar in psychiatry and behavioral sciences. “Based on our data, the unique contribution of a positive attitude to math achievement is as large as the contribution from IQ.”

Research from Sian Beilock, a cognitive scientist and president of Barnard College shows that parents don’t have to overcome their fear of math to help their child succeed, as long they changed their attitudes about the subject. Fashioning an environment in which math is part of everyday life won’t convert kids into overnight math sensations, but perhaps it can help kids realize math is a subject for curiosity, discussion, and growth. There are fun activities like puzzles and cooking that give families an opportunity to talk about math.

Consequences of math negativity may include low participation, low challenge tolerance, falling further behind, behavior problems, and avoiding the advanced math classes needed for success in many careers after high school and college.

what can you do as a parent?

1. BUST THEIR MATH MYTHS AND STEREOTYPES

One very popular stereotype that has been surrounding us from a very long time is that “boys are better at math than girls“. Girls tend to have less positive math attitudes: They have higher levels of math anxiety and lower levels of confidence in their math skills. This means even when girls show similar performance levels to boys, they are often less sure of themselves.

The so-called gender gap in math skills seems to be at least partially correlated to environmental factors. “Our research indicates that in more gender equal societies, girls will gain an absolute advantage relative to boys.” Prof. Paola Sapienza of Northwestern University took into account students from across the globe to determine if gender played a role in the difference in math scores.

Dr. Torkel Klingberg, believes that boys outperform girls in math in cultures where there is an expectation that boys are stronger than girls in math (and other skill areas). He supports his idea by drawing from data that shows there is a direct correlation between countries where there are stronger gender gaps and gender stereotypes (as measured by what is known as the Gender Gap Index[GGI]) and where boys outperform girls in stereotypical ways. In other words, the background cultural beliefs about what people should be good at seem to actually affect performance, in big ways. There is certainly a large body of scientific evidence about how expectations affect performance.

1. INTRODUCE FEMALE MATH ROLE MODELS

The U.S. Department of Commerce says that women hold only 25 percent of STEM occupations. While the numbers seem bleak, it presents an opportunity for change. Females working in or holding degrees in math or science should serve as role models for girls seeking a career in their field. Introducing a positive role model of the same gender to young girls can keep them interested and have a lifelong impact on their career paths.

2. CREATE ENVIRONMENT THAT PROMOTES MATH

Have your daughter do real thinking rather than memorizing procedures. Give different types of tasks, such as authentic, context-free, and hypothetical. Your daughter should be responsible for doing important thinking and explanation when working individually and collaboratively.

2. THEY ARE NOT LETTING YOU DOWN

Parent frustrations increase math stress. When parents say things like, “I did quite well without math and so will you” or “I don’t know why you are having problems, I had no trouble adding fractions with different denominators. It is quite easy”

children start doubting themselves. When children perceive parent frustration, they may take on the incorrect belief that they are letting their parents down if they struggle and or ask for help, even when it is quite appropriate to do so. The outcome can be falling further behind, not because they are lazy or have inadequate brainpower, but because they lose confidence that their efforts will make any difference.

Don’t emphasize your own math experiences as being very easy or very hard.

SUMMARY

It is very important for parents to learn what the kid desires, understand her or his strength and construct a plan that will be beneficial to the child. Motivating kids to learn math is necessary for this time and age because the fear around math is bigger than ever and if parents don’t come out to support their kids to fight this battle, they will eventually lose to fear. We have learned:

1. How to figure out that your child is suffering from the fear of math.

2. Learned to encounter math with head straight and not shy away from solving and learning math.

3. Changing our mindset to a growth mindset and build more confidence in ourselves.

4. Taking learning slowly. This will make it sustain longer.

5. Looking at math with a positive attitude.

“If parents want to give their kids a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy the effort, and keep on learning.”

-Carol Dweck

Share with us what are your ways to help your kids overcome the fear of math.