Help Your Kids (Or Yourself!) Overcome Math Anxiety

Math Anxiety is a fear of math and one's ability to understand and do math. It is similar to test anxiety, but this type of anxiety controls one's thoughts, feelings and emotions about the entire subject of math- homework, tests, exams and finals. If you or your child suffers from math fear and stress, you know how frustrating and demoralizing it can be to study, study, study and then choke, choke, choke when it counts.

I know for a fact that math anxiety can be overcome because both myself and my middle-school daughter have done it. In fact, my daughter has done such an amazing job dealing with math anxiety that she received a 5 (A) in math this year and has been asked to take advanced math next year! She has come a long way from hating math, taking mandatory summer school and attending twice-weekly math tutoring!

I learned to overcome my almost 30 years of math anxiety by... becoming a teacher and then tutoring students in math! Once I approached math with the right attitude, I realized that all of those years I suffered and complained had been unnecessary! Oh, well, live and learn, right?

Why did I have such a hard time with math? Looking back, I can see that I believed most of the common math myths:

Math Myths

Every last one of these myths are FALSE and have caused math anxiety for so many poor students! Don't let them stop you or your children from loving math- or at least being good at it!
  • Math is not for girls. Aaaahhh! Do you know how many millions of girls and women have believed this foolishness and been defeated from the first math problem? Math is not masculine or feminine!
  • Maybe this article about girls and math will put this awful myth to rest once and for all.

  • You have to have a "math gene" or you'll never understand it. There is not some special kind of brain that you need to understand math. Yes, math is about logic, but it is also about intuition. Also, just because your mom or dad did not do well in math, doesn't mean that you are destined to do poorly. Math anxiety does not have to be inherited!
  • There's only one way to get the answer. Please! I first found out that there was more than one way to skin a cat when a French man showed me how he learned long division. It is NOTHING like the way we are taught in the United States, and, yet, we came up with the same answers. C'est incredible!

Let's talk about how to overcome math anxiety...

Overcome Math Anxiety

  • Ask questions! Don't be afraid of looking dumb. I guarantee that a whole bunch of other students have the same question, and you are helping them out by asking the teacher to explain something.
  • Ask everybody! Sometimes a friend or another student is better at explaining a math concept than the teacher! Ask everybody and anybody until you find the person that can make it clear to you. Sometimes that means...
  • Get a tutor. You need math help? There is no shame to that game, believe me! These days, it seems as though everybody is getting a tutor, especially for math help! Find someone whose job is to help you with math! You can find the perfect tutor.

  • Do NOT give up. Keep at it! It will come to you. This past semester, my usually sensible nephew gave up on Algebra 2. It "got hard" and he stopped trying. Guess what happened? He received a D on his report card, and instead of getting his driver's license and visiting relatives in Virginia, he stayed home and went to summer school! The worst part is, NOW HE GETS IT! If he had not given up a few months ago, he would have gotten it then, and now he'd be driving and having fun.
  • Treat math like a game or a sport you are learning. At first, it may feel weird, awkward or funny to do something new, but if you keep practicing, you will get better. Think about all of the skills you have now that seemed nearly impossible at first, like riding a bike. It is the same with math. Practice, and you'll get better.
  • Understand today's concept BEFORE you move to the next one. More than any other subject, math builds on itself, which means that you must understand today's concept in order to do tomorrow's. Could you say, "Forget the alphabet; I'll skip it and learn to read anyway."? Of course not!

    Ask questions, stay after class, stop by after school- TODAY- to make certain that you "get it."

  • Of course, one way to conquer math anxiety is being prepared for tests, right?

  • Go back and learn it. I am convinced that I had trouble with fractions until college because in the 3rd grade my teacher was absent and the substitute messed up the lesson. Oh, how I wished I had opened my mouth the next day, or in 4th grade, or in 9th grade, or... and asked someone to explain it to me from the beginning!
  • Watch your mouth. One of the worst things you can say is, "I'm not a good at math!" or "I know I am going to flunk this test!" Your mind is like a genie that will grant your every wish. Instead, say, "I love math!" or "I'm getting good at math!" The power of positive thinking...
  • Learn to relax before any math situation that stresses you out. Being tense, worried and stressed makes it nearly impossible for you to do well on any test. (I wish I had known this before nearly every math exam I took in high school, but at least I can help you.) A simple relaxation technique is to take a few deep breaths and repeat a comforting phrase. Before a test, I close my eyes, imagine myself breezing through it and whisper, "I know this stuff! I know this stuff!" It works for me!
  • Do your own thing. Some of us are kinetic (physical) learners, some of us are visual (sight) learners, some of us are auditory (hearing) learners. Count on your fingers, draw a picture, tell yourself a story- who cares if your methods are different than others as long as they work? Just don't cheat :)!
  • Recognize every success- no matter how small it is.You've been flunking every math test all year and today you received a C? Great! Let's celebrate! It may not be your ultimate goal, but it is a step in the right direction. Before my daughter learned to love math, she just hated it a little less.

Let's conquer math anxiety!

"What do we love?"

math, math anxiety

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