What to do if your child is struggling with maths anxiety

Do you feel anxious when faced with a mathematical problem? You’re not alone!

Estimates suggest approximately 20%of adults in the UK feel anxious when confronted with a mathematical problem, such as mental calculations when splitting the bill in a restaurant. Feeling anxious in these situations could signify maths anxiety, defined as anxiety about the ability to perform mathematical functions.

As an addition, research shows that up to 50% of parents dread the moment when their kids come home with maths homework, with 83% being concerned that their negative feelings about maths might negatively affect their children. And the concern is not for nothing. With many parents holding their anxieties towards learning maths, those anxieties can impact how they feel when supporting their children with their maths homework. If parents experience maths anxiety feel worried or nervous, it may hinder their children’s maths progress and make them feel anxious.

But there are many ways parents can feel more confident about maths, which can positively affect how their children experience maths – and it doesn’t have to be complicated or take up big chunks of time either. There are an array of ways to overcome feelings of maths anxiety. It could be as simple as having a positive mindset when tackling a maths challenge to using technology and teacher-based resources.

We’ve asked Dr Laura Outhwaite, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities at University College London on her top five tips on how parents can feel more confident about maths and prevent maths anxiety in children:

1. Adopt a mastery mindset

When working together on maths homework, try to understand and get better at the particular maths activity you’re doing with your child. This is known as a “mastery approach to learning”. By adopting this mindset, you can help your child to engage with maths in a positive way that focuses on the possibility of success and encourages perseverance. A mindset like this can help motivate and engage your child with the maths activity, and their learning will soon follow.

2. Comparison is not your friend

Likewise, try not to compare yourself or your child to others or focus on achieving the best mark possible when doing maths homework. Doing so is characteristic of what is known as a “performance approach to learning”, which can often make us feel stressed and nervous. Although some research shows a performance approach to learning can be beneficial, a mastery approach is usually much better for helping us feel motivated, engaged, and ultimately – learn more!

3. Make maths fun

Maths is all around us, and there are so many easy and everyday ways that you can make maths fun for everyone. For example, you can try baking together – when weighing the different ingredients; you can talk about different measurements. When mixing ingredients, you can talk about adding and taking away. And finally, when cutting up your delicious treats, you can talk about division and whether that’s equal or not! You can also make it easier or harder based on what your child can do in maths. And best of it all – your family get to enjoy your fabulous baking! 

4. Ask for help

If you are feeling particularly worried about how to help your child with their maths homework, don’t be afraid to speak to their teacher and ask for help. They may help you understand the strategies they teach in their classroom or point you toward some good quality maths resources. Research shows a strong connection between home and school plays an essential role in children’s educational success.

5. Try using a good quality maths app

Educational maths apps can be an accessible and easy-to-use way of giving your child extra practice in maths in a fun and engaging way. Using a maths app can also help take the pressure off you if you feel anxious about your child’s maths homework. Research shows children’s learning with maths apps is most outstanding when the apps provide children with a personalised learning journey, explain why their answer is right or wrong, and give them praise.

About Laura Outhwaite

Laura is a Senior Research Fellow at the new Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities (CEPEO), focused on identifying and reducing structural barriers to opportunities across the life course. Her research expertise lies in psychology applied to education, particularly mathematical development, early years, and educational technology. She is also Deputy Director of the Child Development and Learning Difficulties (CDLD) Lab. 

Previously, she was a Research Mentor for the EDUCATE project at the UCL Knowledge Lab, which brought together researchers and EdTech entrepreneurs to drive and sustain evidence-based educational technology innovations. She completed her PhD evaluating the reach and utility of a maths app intervention in the UK, Brazil, and Malawi with Prof Nicola Pitchford (Professor of Developmental Psychology) and Anthea Gulliford (Educational Psychologist) at the University of Nottingham.