Did you know that four out of five adults in the UK have a low level of numeracy? Whilst many consider mathematics to be a difficult subject, a study released last month – Understanding Mathematics Anxiety,by the Centre for Neuroscience in Education, University of Cambridge – argues that individuals’ struggles with maths may not reflect a lack of ability, but rather a phenomenon called ‘maths anxiety’.

What is maths anxiety?

Maths anxiety is ‘a negative emotional reaction to mathematics, which can interfere with the ability to perform mathematical tasks’. It can manifest physically (for example, as a raised heart-rate or butterflies in the stomach), emotionally (through feelings of fear, antipathy, tension or frustration) or behaviourally; disruptive behaviour in class, avoiding maths homework or giving up studying maths at the earliest opportunity may all indicate anxiety around maths.

What can cause maths anxiety?

Through interviews with primary and secondary school children, researchers discovered that some children experience anxiety because they believe that maths is a challenging subject and they lack the confidence to tackle it. Others may experience temporary or lasting anxiety triggered by particular circumstances such as low achievement, parental pressure, comparison with classmates or siblings and confusion caused by teaching methods. Some older students also indicated that the transition from primary to secondary school had been a cause of their maths anxiety.

What are the consequences of maths anxiety?

Children as young as six have been identified by researchers as suffering with maths anxiety, and symptoms can become more apparent when students enter secondary school. Anxiety impacts sufferers’ mental well-being and distracts from learning, whilst negative feelings associated with maths lessons and homework can affect performance and lead to pupils avoiding them. Children are at risk of developing a limiting belief around their mathematical ability that lasts into adulthood, impacting their choices regarding further study and career.

I am worried my child may be suffering with maths anxiety. What can I do?

Researchers noted that the children to whom they spoke were able to articulate complex feelings with nuance and identify what they felt to be the causes of their anxiety. Talk to your child and support them in overcoming feelings of inadequacy or limiting beliefs about their ability by helping them to build a growth mind-set. Encourage your child to embrace challenges as a tool for brain growth, add an all-important ‘yet’ to laments of ‘I can’t do this!’ and frequently remind them of how much progress they have made.

At Flying Start Tuition, growth mind-set techniques form part of our unique, holistic approach to teaching, alongside neuro-linguistic programming strategies. We strive to boost pupils’ confidence and equip them with tools to manage negative feelings, including anxiety. You can read more about growth mind-set in our blog, ‘Building Confidence Through a Growth Mind Set’.

Need a little help? Flying Start Tuition is an award-winning tuition centre offering classes for children from year one through to GCSEs, including their popular Eleven Plus programmes.  Classes run throughout the year at their main centre in Chesham and at their five satellite centres in Amersham, Aylesbury, Berkhamsted, Jordans Village and Little Chalfont.

Flying Start are Ofsted registered and accept Childcare Vouchers and Tax-Free Childcare.  Bursaries are also available – please ask for details.

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