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Dealing with Math Anxiety

by Emily Cullen
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How do you feel about Math? If I told you that you needed to take a Math test tomorrow what would your response be? A lot of people would be experiencing feelings of panic, fear, and dread at the thought of this and if that is how you feel, you are not alone!

I was in a position where I needed to support students with their math learning. The thought of doing high school math made me break out in a cold sweat! In order to be a good teacher, I had to move past my negative feelings and be prepared to teach a subject I hated. What I learned from this experience was that I’m not bad at math at all, but I had internalized the negative messages and anxieties that well-meaning adults had provided me with throughout my adolescence. It took me some practice to feel confident in my math skills, but I realized math was just like any other subject, you didn’t need a “special” kind of brain to learn it, you just need to put in the work!

This experience is supported by current research which has found that math anxiety and negative messaging around mathematics can pass from adults to students like a virus. Researcher Petra Bonfert-Taylor states that “We are passing on from generation to generation the phobia for mathematics…” and this phobia causes many students to underachieve in math and some to give up altogether.

What can you do if you feel anxious about math? And more importantly, how can you stop from passing this anxiety on to your children? Bonefert-Taylor makes the following suggestions:

  • Take the time to look up fun math facts with your children (like what is the tallest building in the world?)
    Explore stories and apps that use math
  • Demonstrate the value of math to your children (for example talk about the measurements used when cooking and baking or how you calculate the change you might get back at the store)
  • Remind your children that learning math is like improving at a sport, it takes direct practice and effort
  • Encourage your children to persevere even when math is challenging, remind them that it is okay to take risks and make mistakes (that’s how we learn!)
  • Challenge yourself to change the way you talk about math
  • Remind yourself that you don’t need a “special” kind of brain to do math, you don’t need to feel intimidated or speak negatively about yourself or your abilities. You CAN do math!