Avoiding math anxiety


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Q: I can remember back to grade school when I was scared to death of math. In high school, I took the minimum number of math classes. And even today, I still avoid doing math as much as possible. My third-grader seems to be falling into the same trap. How can I help her avoid math anxiety?

A: Believe it or not, now there is actual biological evidence of the existence of math anxiety.

Research has now been done at Stanford University on the brain activity patterns of second- and third-graders who were stressed about math. The result showed their brain patterns while performing math problems were similar to the brain patterns of people with other phobias. The brains of the panicky children had increased activity in the regions associated with fear, and decreased activity in the regions involved in problem-solving.

During the research study, the children with high math anxiety were less accurate and significantly slower at solving math problems than children with low math anxiety. This is important information, as children with anxiety tend to avoid taking higher level math courses - lessening their opportunity to enter many careers. And adults with life-long math anxiety may find it difficult to understand such things as mortgage rates and credit-card interest.

Knowing that math anxiety is a real phobia gives hope that it may be as treatable as other phobias. One way to help children avoid getting anxiety about math is to make sure that they have a firm understanding of math processes. As a third-grader, your child is probably involved in multiplication. Make sure that she clearly understands exactly what multiplication does.

You can also help reduce your child's math anxiety by helping her learn stress-reducing techniques and having her solve easy math problems to gain confidence in abilities. The more comfortable your child becomes with numbers, the less stress she will encounter when dealing with math.

Parents should send questions and comments to dearteacher@dearteacher.com or go to dearteacher.com.

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