“Don’t look at me. I’m terrible at math.”
“Math? I love it.”
Those are the two opinions people generally have of their math skills – they are either terrible or great. There is rarely someone in the middle.
When you mix this idea with the concept that math is something that is considered incredibly important in school (and for later in life), you end up with math anxiety. This means that children internalize both the importance of math and also the stress of doing well. When they feel this stress, their brain’s memory is decreased and they might perform badly on an exam, this in turn reinforces the idea that they are bad at math. And the cycle continues!
How can we break the math anxiety cycle?
- Treat math like reading. When children are young, parents often read to them, creating positive experiences with reading. Most of the time, the same is not true of math. For different ages, incorporate math in different ways. Count dolls and car. Add them together. Double or half a recipe. Compare prices at the supermarket. Incorporating math into your home and your conversations will immediately take some of the anxiety out of the equation.
- Change your mindset. Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, writes about how people with a growth mindset or those who believe that their traits are not static and therefore they can learn and grow are much more successful than their peers with a fixed mindset. In other words, we have to change the way we think about math skills. You can learn math – you don’t need to have an innate talent in order to be “good” at it.
- Learn to say, “I don’t know.” Some of the anxiety associated with math comes from the need to be perfect, to always get the right answer. Learning that it is okay not to know and then to ask questions in order to understand can change the way we approach all learning – but especially math. A parent modeling this for their child can be even more powerful.
Still struggling with your own math anxiety? Share it with your kids. That’s the way you will overcome it together!