Published: October 7, 2019
The new school year is now well under way, and as the excitement of new classrooms and new teachers settles into a predictable routine, patterns of preference start to emerge. Kids will gravitate to some classes over others, and you might even find that your children are developing strong antipathies to one of their subjects. In a surprising number of cases, that subject will be math — so much so that the term math anxiety has been coined to describe this experience.
One of the most common reasons families reach out to us to find a math tutor in Toronto is because they have a child who is struggling in math. While it is normal for students to be challenged by new material — especially at the beginning of the school year — in some cases, the problem transcends the normal difficulties involved in mastering new concepts and formulae.
In these cases, what can seem like normal struggles and frustrations can actually be math anxiety, something that requires special attention and a strategic, science-based approach.
What is Math Anxiety?
Math anxiety is a widely observed phenomenon in which students develop negative emotional reactions to math and math-related tasks. This can manifest in a range of different ways: as a frustration with arithmetic and avoidance of tasks that require it, a general sense of tension, and even as bursts of anger and rage on the part of children suffering from this issue when confronted with math problems.
In some cases, these reactions can be debilitating, making it extremely difficult for students to complete even ordinary mathematical problems in their everyday lives. Given how central mathematics is to success in primary and secondary school, undiagnosed and untreated math anxiety can stunt academic development and cause a range of other behaviour problems.
But the good news, if you have a child who is suffering from math anxiety, is that there are ways of overcoming this challenge. In this post, we will outline some of the strategies you can use to deal with math anxiety head on.
While there are many approaches that can help you deal with the symptoms of math anxiety, if you really want your child to regain their academic confidence and master the material that is before them, it is a good idea to find a tutor in Toronto who can help — tutoring has been shown to play a significant role in boosting confidence and helping students with particular struggles get the tools they need to succeed.
Though the following steps can be helpful to anyone if implemented properly, expert tutoring will speed up the process and help you avoid common errors, guaranteeing that your child’s math anxiety will be a thing of the past.
1. Understand the Problem
As with many learning challenges young children face, the first step to developing an effective strategy for dealing with the problem is understanding why it exists in the first place. The tragic reality is that, while one UK study indicated that as many as one in twenty children may suffer from math anxiety, it is often dismissed as laziness, immaturity, or chalked up as being the result of other behavioural issues.
While great strides have been made in recent years to de-stigmatize learning disabilities and normalize the struggles of those who deal with them, the truth is that many children are still told that they simply need to push through the difficulties they face. Unfortunately, when confronting something like math anxiety, this is simply ineffective, and can even exacerbate the problem.
Similarly, it does no good to be fatalistic about the problem. Ability to understand math is not an innate characteristic, and nor is it a gendered one: while some people may find that mathematical thinking comes easier to them, all children should be able to learn the arithmetic required to succeed in elementary and secondary school. If they are struggling to overcome their fear of the subject, what is required is a practical approach rooted in building skills and confidence.
In order to deal with math anxiety effectively, teachers and families need to be able to talk about the problem not as a lack of will or something that can be dealt with through hard work, but as a unique problem that requires solutions based in science.
As many of our math tutors in Mississauga and other Ontario cities know first hand, it is possible to make progress on math anxiety if the right supports are in place. But before you can start exploring solutions for this kind of problem, you first need to recognize the nature of the problem itself.
2. Break Down the Material Into Manageable Pieces
Tutors who work with students who struggle with math often note that math anxiety rarely appears out of nowhere. What typically happens is that a student starts to fall behind their peers; this can happen for a number of different reasons, and usually isn’t the individual’s fault.
But because math is a progressive discipline, where sophisticated concepts build off of more elementary ones, when students fall far enough behind they simply cannot understand what is being taught to them. This leads them to believe they just cannot understand math, period.
The most effective way to deal with this is to go back to basics, and start with what they can understand. By slowly helping them tackle material that they are comfortable, with, they can gain the confidence and basic skills necessary to work their way back up to where they are in the curriculum.
This approach relies on children having access to strong educational support, however, and one of the reasons math anxiety continues to be such a prominent issue in countries like Canada is because the education system often lacks the resources it needs to provide the dedicated one-on-one attention struggling kids need to face their fears head on and catch up with the rest of their class.
In order to make real progress, children need to have the time to learn the material at their own speed and in a way that is tailored toward their particular challenges. For this reason, parents should find ways to create a supportive environment where students can undercut the overwhelming anxiety they face when dealing with math problems by breaking the curriculum down into manageable pieces.
3. Practice Regularly
If you have ever had to deal with a learning task that at first seemed completely insurmountable, you will be familiar with the way that something anxiety-inducing and scary becomes more manageable once you have actually started on the work.
The hardest part of confronting new material is always the beginning, and this is when anxiety tends to be most acute. Once you have made some headway, it is easier to come back and pick up where you left off. The problem is that if you leave the task for too long, that anxiety will start to creep back in, making it harder and harder to pick up again.
For this reason, if you really want your child to beat math anxiety, you will need to make regular math practice part of their life. The more frequently a student confronts math, the easier it will be next to — so long as this confrontation is happening in a supportive space with manageable problems.
One of the reasons why tutoring can be so effective in helping children overcome math anxiety is because it routinizes practice and makes it normal. For this reason, it is a good idea to find a tutor near you who can do regular house visits. Not only will this make math prep a regular part of your child’s schedule, having a tutor visit your home means your child will be confronting the subject in a safe and comfortable environment.
Overcoming math anxiety is about a lot more than just learning to do arithmetic. It is also about building confidence, and developing problem solving skills that can be applied to much more than just mathematics.
If you can help your kids face down their fears and frustrations with math, you will be teaching them a valuable lesson they will be able to use for the rest of their lives: that no problem is so big that it can’t be handled if approaches strategically and with the right help.
Over the years, our tutors have helped many children overcome their deep-seated math anxiety to flourish academically. If you are concerned that your child’s struggles with math go beyond the ordinary, then get in touch with Prep Academy Tutors today to find Toronto math tutors who can provide one-on-one attention and personalized support.