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What Do I Do If My Child Has Maths Anxiety?

Maths anxiety: the numbers are mounting

On the 30th April 2012 the Guardian published an article written by a parent whose daughter had spent many years suffering from Maths anxiety. Kate Brian’s daughter Flora was just six years old when she told her parents that she didn’t understand anything that was being taught in her Maths lessons in school. The school regularly reassured her parents that there was nothing wrong but Kate Brian recalls how:

“she sometimes made wildly illogical guesses when attempting basic addition and was easily confused by anything numerical. She was also getting upset about maths at school, but the more her teachers tried to reassure us that she was doing well, the more Flora insisted she didn’t let them see that she spent maths lessons copying other children.”

They took her to a specialist who told them that Flora wasn’t dyscalculic so in desperation they visited an educational psychologist who confirmed that her problems were linked to anxiety rather than a lack of ability. Maths anxiety is thought to affect approximately a quarter of the population which means that around 2 million children are suffering from this mostly unrecognised condition. Maths anxiety was first identified in the 1950s but recent studies involving brain scans show interesting brain functions of children with the condition. These children respond to sums in the same way that those with phobias react to spiders or snakes with an increase in activity in the fear centres of the brain. The consequence of this is a decrease in activity in the problem solving areas which makes it harder to produce the right answer.


Does My Child Have Maths Anxiety?

If your child is suffering from a variety of symptoms listed by AnxietyATOZ and these are accompanied by them making wildly illogical guesses when attempting basic addition or they are easily confused by anything numerical they may be suffering from Maths anxiety.

Psychological Symptoms:

  • Confusion.
  • Lack of confidence.
  • Panic-Stricken Worry.
  • Negative thoughts.
  • Sudden Memory Loss.

Physiological Symptoms:

  • Rapid heart beat.
  • Sweating.
  • Nausea.
  • Stomach disorders.
  • Headaches.


What Do I Do If My Child Has Maths Anxiety?

The good news is that Maths anxiety can be overcome because it is confidence based and not linked to a student’s mathematical ability. Mike Ellicock, chief executive of the charity National Numeracy, explains:

“Labelling and categorising children into those who can and can’t do maths isn’t helpful. There’s nothing more certain to be a self-fulfilling prophecy … but given encouragement and the right support, everyone can meet a functional level of numeracy.”

Additionally, the various websites that discuss how to overcome the condition recommend extra tuition in Maths. They all concur with Peter Lacey, of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics who says teachers:

“are often constrained by a system focused on targets and attainment levels. “If you say slow down, ministers get concerned, but if you want to build a tall and secure house, you make sure your foundations are right. Sometimes there’s a rush in the earlier years of teaching that interferes with children gaining real confidence – once it goes wrong at that stage, everything afterwards is insecure. The pressure to get children to a particular level in tests at 11 can mean teaching them tricks to get good outcomes rather than making sure they are confident in their understanding.”

At Kip McGrath Scunthorpe we agree wholeheartedly with this assertion. We regularly see students who, for a variety of reasons have been unable to gain a secure understanding of some of the earlier topics and because of this struggle with the more complex areas of Maths. This is because of the way in which early Maths topics lay the foundations for more advanced mathematics. Without a solid grasp of the foundation areas it becomes harder and harder to access later Maths concepts. As a result, these children then become convinced that they can’t do Maths and their confidence and motivation steadily decrease. When concerned parents contact us the first thing we do is carry out a FREE assessment of their child’s Maths abilities in order to discover the gaps in their understanding. We then use the proven Kip McGrath tutoring methods to fill in the gaps by working with the students on each topic until they have a sound knowledge and are ready to move on. All our students make good progress academically and grow in confidence as a result of the work we do with them. Kate Brian herself testifies on the value of this approach:

“For Flora, extra help rediscovering the basics, along with a gentle approach at her new school, began to reap benefits and she gradually caught up. She has been happier and less stressed….”

If you are worried about your child’s Maths don’t worry. Call us today to find out what we can do to help.


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