Many adults fear math. Thinking about their own past experiences with math, or encountering a math problem in everyday life, can send some people into a panic. People who feel anxious about math tend to avoid math, which leads to lower confidence in their math skills. Parents and caregivers sometimes share their fears about math by saying, “I’m just not a math person,” or “We’re not a math family.”
When caregivers fear math, they may not think about exploring math with their young children. The good news is that there are lots of things caregivers can do to boost children’s math development—even when caregivers themselves are anxious about math.
Understanding Math Anxiety
One might think that if math makes them anxious, it’s because they aren’t good at math. But having math anxiety doesn’t necessarily mean that one is bad at math. For people with math anxiety, the stress of doing math robs them of the focus they need to concentrate on math questions. This lack of focus makes it difficult to keep track of information, leading to mistakes.
Math anxiety does not reflect one’s potential to do math, but rather, it interferes with one’s ability to do math. Importantly, math anxiety can arise from early experiences in school or at home.
Taking Control of Math Anxiety
How can parents and caregivers overcome math anxiety to help children develop an interest in math? With practice, everyone can improve their early math skills and play a role in children’s math development. One way to reduce math anxiety and build positive math attitudes is by noticing and exploring math in everyday life. Another way is to point out how math is personally relevant, such as when budgeting money or following a recipe.
All caregivers can create positive math experiences as part of their family routines and activities. From cooking and cleaning, to reading and playtime, there are many opportunities to practice math. Having conversations about math and enjoying math together can build positive attitudes toward math learning—both for caregivers and their children.