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Could your child be Suffering from Maths Anxiety & Phobia? : One of the most common amongst children

19 Dec 2015


Is your child having difficulty in calculations? Are they facing issues in grasping basic number concepts? Do you see silly mistakes in their calculations? Do they report of maths being most hated subject?

Do they avoid/escape from studying math? If yes, then your child seems to be suffering from math fear or I would say Math-Phobia.

Fear of Math or Math Phobia can induce anxiety in your child which can further lead to poor performance. Decrease grade can act adversely on your child emotional and psychological well being. This can directly affect their self-esteem & confidence. This can be struggling for your child. This can be more debilitating for children just entered in 5th standard as the concepts of mathematics seem to increase in level of difficulty. More new concept more difficulty your child might face.

According to Tobias (1993) Math Phobia is defined as a combined feeling of anxiety and tension interfering in numbers manipulation and solving mathematical problems, further causing one to forget and lose one’s self confidence. It occurs in many children due to different style of learning. As a parent what should you do? Go through the whole article it would help you gain insight on the reasons, causes, sign & symptoms and how you can work towards it.

Reasons behind Math Phobia

·         Cognition: a child having a negative belief or thought process towards learning math may act as a barrier in motivating them to learn. Negative attitude towards math may be due to negative experience in classroom and at home which may involve embarrassing situation/event for a child.

·         Association: association of math with frustration due to inability to solve a problem despite many attempts.

·         Observation: observing any of the parents or adult having or facing difficulty with bills, debts, and disorganized checkbooks. Presentation of math as most difficult and unlearnable subject can induce fear of math in your child, which can be ultimately seen in their performance.

·         Lack of motivation: avoidance and lack of motivation from parents and teachers toward the child while studying. If you keep on putting down the child’s effort of reaching a particular solution especially when it’s wrong, you are demoralizing their efforts which can put their self confidence, motivational level at stake.

·         Lack of Innovation: in teaching can act as a hindrance in learning. Conventional teaching system can make it difficult and boring for the child to learn and get interested in solving problems.  They may develop dissociation with the subject and prolonged dissociation may lead the child to disliking the math subject.

·         Difficulty in conversion: math problems in words require better understanding of language and fundamentals of the subject. Lack of understanding of the fundamentals can make the mathematical problem difficult for the child to solve.

·         Faulty learning pattern: many children make a mistake by trying to learn math as other subjects either by memorizing figures and facts.  They mess it by mugging up the sample questions steps by steps.

·         Learning Difficulty: is your child having difficulty visualizing number sequence and consume more time? Difficulty in distinguishing bigger numbers? Then, they seem to be suffering from dyscalculia. Dyscalculia is one of the learning difficulties faced by many children.

Symptoms of Math Phobia

Physical Symptoms:

·         Headache, stomachache

·         Increased palpitations, sweaty palms

·         Muscle tension, clenched fists

·         Dry mouth

Psychological Symptoms:

·         Anticipation: the child may believe that they are incapable of solving problems even before attempting it.

·         Attitude: the child having negative belief or cognition towards math subject.

·         Difficulty in attending: they may have difficulty in focusing during the class and may show nervousness and difficulty in sitting still throughout the math class.

·         Comparison: you may observe increased grade comparison with their peers which make them worry more. They even worry more thinking about how ill their peers will react if they give wrong answer in classroom. 

·         Feeling of irritation and frustration: you may observe increased feeling of irritation and frustration in them upon their failure to solve a solution. Feeling of frustration can also lead them to act aggressively in situations.

·         Lack of confidence: child may anticipate a feeling of helplessness which act as a hindrance in solving math problems further reducing their self confidence.

What you can do as a Parent?

·         Prepare: Prepare your child to learn mathematics and in the learning process help learn to learn mathematics. This can be done by showing positive attitude towards math. Instead of saying “math is difficult subject tell them math is hard work”.

·         Practice: make their hands on practice every day for at least an hour. As practice make a man perfect. So does everyday practice will lead your child reach a solution. At the same time it will decrease the anxiety level and increase the confidence level of the child.

·         Cooperative Groups: indulge them in cooperative groups during which children will act as a help to each other in solving a solution. As you know children are greatly influenced by their peers so they will try to put in their best efforts to help each other and come out with correct solution together. It will boost their self-esteem.

What can be done by Teacher?

·         Re-examine teaching method: more emphasis should be put on methods including less lecture, more student directed classes and more open discussion. Less time-limit and right answer oriented. Creating non threatening teaching environment.

·         Visual Aids:  as a teacher you can use visual aids in the form of games, puzzles to teach them concepts. It acts as a cherry on the cake. Yes it works as it sound. It will make them enjoy learning mathematics further boosting their self-confidence.

·         Encourage: child to not rely solely on memorizing but understanding is key to success. Encourage them to ask questions and answer all their queries.

·         Communicate: as a teacher communicate your liking for the subject and enjoyment while teaching mathematics.

·         Avoid judgment: do not make a mistake to pre judge a child based upon their grades or failure in solving questions. Rather encourage them to practice daily and to come up and discuss their problems or issues they are facing.

What can a Psychologist do?

Professional help form the Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist, Counselor can be of real help to the child going through mathematics phobia.

Assessing: they will assess the child anxiety level through various questionnaires available which may include questions like marking the anxiety level from opening of books to giving a mathematical exam. It will give an objective construct to you, your child and the Psychologist themselves.

Diagnosis: Clinical Psychologist can help you and your child with the diagnosing the problem whether it is math anxiety, math phobia, or a learning disability like dyscalculia. They will get into the dynamics of the problem and will find out the real cause if any behind your child fear or phobia. Anxiety can be because of underperforming, or to get perfect scores. Every child is different and each of them develops it because of different reasons.

Treatment: Once the problem is being diagnosed they can help with the appropriate intervention. For example if it’s anxiety they will try working on the anxiety level of the child then further focusing on the other aspects of the problem involving the fear/phobia.

In the end I would like to conclude that the more anxious your child is, more poorly they will perform, more they shy away from mathematics the more worrisome they will be to face it again. It can have a serious consequence.


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Tags: #Maths #Phobia #Anxiety