Is your child “Math Anxious”?
Posted on: February 26, 2018.

Author: Subbalakshmi Kumar, PhD
Director, Edufactors Private Limited

Mathematics is a tricky subject. It can make or break your academic life. Parents are often anxious to know if their child can ‘get’ math easily without much effort. The trouble is that mathematics is directly related to intelligence. And who wouldn’t want to boast of having an intelligent child? After all, intelligence is inherited, isn’t it?

The trouble here is that the more anxious we get, the more we make our child feel anxious regarding math. I have seen children who are good in math making silly mistakes just because their parents are anxious, as they weren’t good in math at school! You wouldn’t find a parent lamenting that his or her child isn’t interested in history or geography, but if that child isn’t excited about math, that parent would feel that God has been unkind to them.

The interesting thing, however, is that math is also just like any other subject. It requires effort and sustained practice to master it. It requires motivation to challenge oneself to do difficult problems. Recent revolutionary brain studies have shown that the brain is malleable, and with sustained effort and practice, neurons in the brain get fired up, new connections are made, and hey, you can do math even if you thought you didn’t have it in you!

So how do we tackle this subject?

1. Don’t let your anxiety be felt by your child. Children, generally, can sense their parents’ anxiety. So when a parent feels anxious when the child is doing math, the child would feel it as well. So a math-anxious parent would pass on this anxiety to the child unknowingly, which not only makes the child stay away from math but also, consequently, makes the child have only less practice and feel discouraged to try out challenges.

2. Help your child practice as much math sums in a day as possible. Let children practice some form of mathematics every single day. There are so many math practice books in the market, which they can practice on. We also have a maths workbook called Mathtweets available on Yokibu, that you can buy and practice maths daily. The more they practice math, the more confident they become that they can deal problems with ease. Daily practice is a must in math. Doing a few sums every day, for a few minutes, is better than doing hours of practice during weekends.

3. Praise your child for their effort, not on their results. Studies have shown that children who are praised for their efforts show more confidence in tackling challenging problems, while children who are praised for their intelligence shy away from addressing tougher problems as they fear being ‘discovered’ as being unintelligent or less smart. Try saying, “You haven’t got the sum right YET, but it’s good to see you trying. You don’t give up, eh?”

4. Let them solve easy problems if they like. Do not force them to do the tougher ones immediately after you have taught them some sums. Let them work at their own pace. Once they are confident, they will try out the challenging problems themselves.

5. Insist that it is practice that makes them do better. Children who have already developed a dislike for math may start complaining about headaches, dizziness etc. when they have too many sums to do. Their brain has just started working – hence the pain – and as they get more sums right, their pain will go away, slowly yet surely. Set a time limit for your child, of say 20 minutes – whatever they do – and if they don’t get it right, they can try it the next day.

6. Let children understand relationships before they learn them by rote. For example, it is good to know multiplication tables, doubles of numbers, theorems, and postulates by heart. But they must be able to explain how they get it and not just memorize. By understanding relationships, children can understand concepts easier. For example, children wouldn’t know the relationship between division and fraction, and could easily get confused when one is expressed in another form when it is explained by a teacher or another student who knows it. They have to be given problems that help them understand the relationship between the two.

7. Start number concepts early. Ask children to share with others. Informally explain concepts of addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication in daily life. Let them play with coins and transact with small monies to reinforce these concepts. Children learn faster when things are directly related to their life. So real life examples are best to teach mathematics.

8. Relate math vocabulary with language. Be aware of how language is employed to inform about math concepts. For example, “The room was flooded with almost 100 participants.” and “Fewer than 100 participants trickled in” may report the same event, but the use of language affects your perception.

9. Finally, Let children appreciate the artistic beauty behind math. Patterns in music, dance, art, and nature, all have some form of mathematics and numerical arrangements in them. Let children appreciate the taal (beat) in music and dance, the way petals and leaves are arranged systematically, symmetry in nature, etc.

We all have the ability to appreciate numbers and work with them. We just need to be taught well, given time to practice, and be appreciated for our efforts.

Try it with your children and watch them shine!

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