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When your child fears math, you can help

If you’ve ever done math homework with a child who has slammed down a pencil, worn a hole through the paper with the eraser, or dripped crocodile tears onto that three-digit by two-digit multiplication problem, then you know: Math anxiety is real.

As parents, it’s disheartening to watch our child feel intense frustration or helplessness about their ability to do math. When our kids are young, it seems urgent that they master the material and their attitude, because there is so much math yet to come. And when our children are older, they may wrestle with concepts that we can’t help them with because we simply don’t remember.

How can we best help them? Here are a few tips.

1. Examine your own attitudes about math. Do you try to get out of calculating tips or avoid doing a budget? Your fear and loathing might be contagious! Be positive when you talk about math, and if your kids see you struggling with it, smile and say: “This job is difficult for me, but I’m trying because I know it’s important. And I know that if I keep trying, I’ll get it.”

2. Keep a “growth mindset.” When your child says, “I can’t do it,” remind him that he can’t do it yet. When students believe they can get smarter, they understand that effort makes them stronger. Therefore they put in extra time and effort, and that leads to higher achievement, according to researcher Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. So teach them to love challenges. Reward the effort, not just the right answers.

3. 3) Help them accept their anxiety. Your child may believe that anxiety is a weakness that she should overcome; when she can’t, her self-criticism and frustration can deepen. Remind her that even expert stage actors feel nervous before a performance. And express that while it’s actually common to feel anxious about math, there’s nothing inferior about her ability to learn it.

“Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.” — Albert Einstein

4. Play games to reduce the stress. While it is normal, anxiety and stress can inhibit learning. Give your child the opportunity to have a little fun with math, whether it’s online games or a round of Monopoly. Your child’s teacher can give you advice on websites or apps that are appropriate for your child’s level of learning.

5. Make accommodations sometimes at home. For example, if your child is struggling with long division, consider letting them use a multiplication facts chart. Let them work in short sessions with frequent breaks, and encourage them to get up and move.

6. Hire a tutor. Sometimes, a new person can provide fresh techniques, insights and encouragement.

7. Remind them that learning is the goal. It might not feel like it, but kids aren’t really doing their homework for their teacher, for their parent, or even for a grade. They’re doing it for their knowledge, for their future. They’re building a foundation for tomorrow’s big adventures, whatever they may be!

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