Recent figures have shown that ‘maths anxiety’ affects 2 million children, but many parents may be unaware of how the condition impacts children on a day to day basis.
The phenomenon was first identified in the 1950s, and now researchers from Stanford University have used brain scans to reveal that children with maths anxiety actually have a ‘decrease in activity in the problem-solving areas’ of the brain.
Maths anxiety also differs from dyscalculia, defined as a condition that affects the ability to acquire arithmetical skills, and if you suspect that your child is suffering from the condition, there are a number of ways you can support them.
According to Professor David Sheffield of Derby University’s Centre for Psychological Research, one of the country’s leading experts in the field, practising relaxation techniques is the key to reducing anxiety levels:
‘Try to deal with the anxiety with simple approaches like relaxation or breathing exercises. We did one study where we got people to do a relaxation exercise and then followed them up. Their anxiety scores had dropped and they were able to solve more problems.’
Relaxation exercises could include listening to a CD of calming music, counting to 10 before continuing an activity, or deep breathing.
Helping children increase their overall self-esteem with positive praise and encouragement may also help children build up more resilience to better deal with maths anxiety. This idea is supported by Michael Roach, headteacher at John Ball School in south-east London, who argues that ‘improving their confidence and related attitudes to maths has been key’ to numeracy success at his school. He also feels that reduced anxiety in maths can be achieved by making the subject fun and interactive for children.
Support is key
Mike Ellicock, Chief Executive of the National Numeracy charity argues that ‘given encouragement and the right support, everyone can meet a functional level of numeracy.’
Here are just a few ways you can guide your children through mathematical concepts:
Use online and offline games, including board games, to help children practice their numeracy skills
Work with your child to create accessible maths targets
Use maths dictionaries and practical equipment to help children bring their maths learning to life