Math anxiety is defined as anxiety about the ability to perform math functions. Incredibly common – half of parents admitted to suffering with it according to the latest research from Akribian. Contradictorily to what some people believe, maths anxiety is not linked to intelligence or ability – anyone could experience it. It starts at an early age and once formed, this negative perception deepens, so it is crucial to tackle it early on.
r Martin Hassler Hallstedt, learning psychologist, is the co-founder of Count on me! maths game, which helps children improve their skills by 60%1 through game play and adventure. Martin shares how to spot maths anxiety and tips to conquer it.
Signs of maths anxiety
Often misconstrued as someone trying to get out of work, if someone actively and repeatedly avoids maths, this could signify maths anxiety. It can, if ignored, lead to a negative spiral of avoiding maths that continues throughout a lifetime, affecting everything from higher education, career paths and continuously adverse attitudes towards everyday mathematics.
Lack of response or emotional outbursts
Maths anxiety negatively affects our working memory – which is vital to being able to learn, imagine, and solve problems. The anxiety and stress the maths causes uses up a person’s working memory making it almost impossible for them to think clearly, leaving a person stunned and frozen. It is not the maths itself that stands in the way – it is the stress and fear caused by the anxiety.
A spiral of negative self-talk and low achievement
People with maths anxiety tend to have negative thoughts about both their own maths abilities and the subject of mathematics. This internal chatter can sometimes be said out loud, such as “I hate maths” or “I’m just not a maths person”. This negative self-talk eventually affects their achievement within the subject. Since they tend to avoid the subject, they get less exposure to it than their peers, leading to lower grades which reinforces their belief that they are not good at maths.
Easy tips to support children with learning maths and overcome maths anxiety:
Reframe your language and attitude to maths
Many adults have a terrible relationship with maths. This can quickly be noticed by children, which in turn leads to the start of the child’s own bad relationship with maths. Children copy what adults do and say. If we start to talk more positively about maths with our children, they will eventually do the same. Even if you don’t like maths or find yourself uncomfortable with it – try to address maths as fun and positive.
Make maths positive and fun
As we need to learn and practice maths for a long time to master it, the exercises need to be captivating and engaging. In addition to this, positive reinforcement could also be beneficial.
You can help make maths magical, positive, and fun by talking maths with children every day and introducing a game element or challenge with your children. For example, when reviewing homework with your child, focus on the answers they got right – emphasising correct answers rather than the wrong ones. Another way of making maths fun is connecting it to the child’s or family’s interests. For example, by painting by numbers for a child who loves drawing or identifying shapes as you take your daily walk or travel in the car.
Think beyond traditional techniques
There are so many tools and resources that can help you with your child’s education. And screen time doesn’t have to be something we dread! You can turn it into something valuable and informative that they will love whilst it builds their knowledge and skills.
For example, plenty of YouTube videos incorporate counting and numbers. Another way of thinking beyond the traditional pure mathematics exercises is by incorporating a game such as Count on me! into their screen time. By packaging maths into something that children enjoy (a gaming adventure), Count on me! make screen time both educational and entertaining in equal measure. The exercises in the app adapt to your child’s knowledge and previous maths skills, ensuring that they are always on the right level and improving.
Practice maths in short bursts
Practising maths at home doesn’t need to require a lot of time or effort. As maths is all around us, you can incorporate it into almost anything you do. All it takes is a bit of imagination! You can, for example, let your child count or weigh the ingredients when cooking or collect numbers of leaves when on a walk. However, as younger children have short attention spans, keep it short – aim for a maximum of 15 minutes per session.
As with any other skills, maths skills are acquired by continuously practice. Therefore, keep study sessions short and reoccurring, rather than long and seldom. As the child becomes fluent and competent in maths, their confidence grows.
Aim for a maths rhythm and fluency
Practice makes perfect and kids love to feel they are masters at their subject! IQ tests are about being rapid, many people can answer the questions but it is the pace at which you can answer through fluency that sets you apart. To do this, help them get a learning rhythm so that the maths exercises stick for example start off saying addition and subtraction facts out loud while looking at a paper with the maths facts. Say them slowly but with a clear pace. Gradually hide the answers with your hand and try to continue saying them at the same pace. Once the child has the rhythm, they are able to do the task so it becomes second nature, just like riding a bicycle. As they become fluent and competent, confidence grows too. Practice fluency with flashcards, singing or chanting the answers to a beat.
The Count on me! app is for children aged 5-9 years old and is based on a unique concept of Game-Embedded Teaching (GET). Developed using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) combined with advanced gaming technology it is proven to accelerate learning and support maths home learning.
With Mathemagical storytelling, the adventure-based game helps children learn and master early maths concepts such as pattern recognition, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and equalities. Children can only play the game for 15 minutes per day as the characters in Numberia go to ‘rest’, so it involves limited screen time with maximum learning outcomes.
Count on me! is available for iPads at £3.99 a month – try the first week for free. Visit the Apple app store or www.akribian.com