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Math Anxiety in Children


What is math anxiety?

Math anxiety is a feeling of tension or discomfort when your child thinks about or works on math. Your child may have mild anxiety that happens at certain times, such as before a timed test. He may have severe anxiety any time he has to do math.

What increases my child's risk for math anxiety?

Your child may have an anxiety disorder that makes him worry about how he is doing. He may think he is not good at math even if he has good math skills. He may have a learning disability that prevents him from being able to do math. A learning disability means your child has trouble with an academic skill even though tests show he is intelligent. Your child may develop math anxiety if he did poorly in a past math class or if he sees math anxiety in a parent.

What are the signs and symptoms of math anxiety?

  • Physical problems such as shortness of breath or stomach pain when thinking about or doing math
  • Feeling tired or cranky when he does math homework, or not wanting to fix errors
  • Missing class or arriving late, not paying attention in math class, or being disruptive
  • Not being able to answer questions in class or solve problems on the board
  • Not finishing homework, or not turning in finished homework
  • Doing math homework correctly but failing tests
  • Asking to leave the room every time he is about to work in a group or do a problem on the board
  • Turning pale or red, shaking, or breathing faster when he is called on in class or before a timed test

How is math anxiety diagnosed?

Experts may test your child's ability to do math when he is not timed or graded. They will also ask him to describe how he feels when he thinks about or works on math. Your older child may be given a questionnaire (written list of questions) about how he feels about math. His answers may show if his anxiety is mild or severe. The answers may also show what triggers his anxiety.

How is math anxiety managed?

  • Math experts may work with your child. The experts will help him improve his accuracy with math. They will also give him more practice with math to build his skills and confidence. Other specialists can help him improve his ability to concentrate or to control his anxiety. He may be taught relaxation methods to use before and during a test.
  • An individualized education program (IEP) may be used through high school graduation. The IEP identifies your child's learning needs and helps his teachers understand how to help him learn. The IEP may help your child build skills he will need after high school. He may be able to use other accommodations in college to help him continue to succeed. For example, he may be able to take tests without being timed. This may help him feel less anxious and focus on the math problems.

What can I do to help support my child?

  • Always encourage your child. Do not tell him math is easy or he should be able to solve the problems. These types of comments may make him feel anxious or ashamed about having trouble. You might have had anxiety or other problems with math when you were your child's age. Try not to show anxiety because it may increase your child's anxiety.
  • Go through your child's math homework with him. Have him tell you his thought process as he solves the problems, even if his answer is not correct. Do not solve the problems for your child or correct him when he makes a mistake. Give him a chance to correct his mistakes. Be patient as he works through the problems. Math may be tiring for your child. Have him take short breaks, but make sure he comes back and finishes his homework.
  • Help your child reduce stress and anxiety. If your child is taught relaxation methods, have him do this as often as directed. For example, he may be taught to close his eyes and picture something that makes him happy. He may learn to take slow, deep breaths when he starts to feel anxious. It may be helpful to have your child tell you about his anxiety or how he feels when he has to do math.
  • Do not focus on grades. Praise improvement, such as a test your child was able to take even though he felt anxious. Focus on an assignment your child finished and turned in. It is okay to praise a good grade on a test or homework assignment, but do not make good grades the focus.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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