*Today I’d like to welcome Laura Laing, author of the new book Math For Grownups to Imp3rfect Mom. She has some important insight about math anxiety and our kids.*

by Laura Laing

Things that make many kids anxious: a new school, big dogs, the deep end of the swimming pool, bees, strangers, nightmares, math.

Did you notice something there? For many children, math and bees are equally frightening or at least nerve-wracking.

Not all kids have math anxiety, but it’s not uncommon for elementary, middle or high school students to express nervousness about learning math or taking math tests. At the same time, these students may also feel less confident in their math skills or even say that they hate math.

This is not a good thing.

As a parent, you may not be able to convince your child that they love math, but you can help them tolerate the subject and—better yet—ease their anxiety. And since we parents may well have helped instill that sense of math anxiety, we probably ought to do something about it.

**Allow your kids to fail** Kids aren’t given enough opportunities to try out math without looking for the so-called “right” answer. In school, they’re being graded almost all the time, so why not introduce them to some low-stakes math problems at home. Get them involved with cooking (and let them screw up a recipe). Have them put their measuring and conversion skills to work in the sewing room (and let them see how small an 1/8” seam really is). Allow your kids to focus on the process, not the outcome.

**Show your kids’ your mistakes** Even with a math degree, I’ve made some pretty outrageous math mess-ups—and I’m guessing you have, too. (I once ordered way too much lumber for a simple backyard project, because I miscalculated what I would need. The extra is still lying under the now-completed deck.) No parent wants to look like a total screw-up, but being open with your math mistakes is critical for reducing your kids’ anxiety. Bottom line: Our math mistakes aren’t generally life-or-death; our kids need to see that first hand.

**Talk about their anxiety** Reassure your kids that their anxiety is normal—but that they can and should get over it. Talk to them about what they’re thinking and help them verbalize their fears. Older kids can rationalize their illogical thoughts. Younger kids may do well with simple relaxation techniques like deep breathing.

**Be careful of the messages you send** Think you’re bad at math? Keep that sentiment to yourself. Kids internalize these messages quickly. (Which is why that Barbie that said “Math is hard!” was such a dumb toy.) Even if they don’t act like it, our children do want to be like us—but math anxiety is not something you want them to emulate, right? Also be careful of over-emphasizing grades. Instead, remind your kids that they’ll be reviewing the same math concepts over and over again. If they’re not successful the first time, they’ll have another chance to learn it.

**Talk to your child’s teacher** All kids are different at school than they are at home, and it’s entirely possible that Ms. Bloom is not aware of your child’s math anxiety. She may have some great tricks to help ease her students’ minds. But be aware that some teachers may have math anxiety themselves. If you feel that the teacher is not being proactive, you need to advocate for your child in different ways.

*Laura Laing is the author of Math for Grownups, a funny and accessible look at how adults use math in their everyday lives. She blogs at www.mathforgrownups.com.*

**Wouldn’t this be a great book to share with your kids when they ask, “why do I need to learn this?” So if you’d like to enter to win a free copy of Math for Grownups, you can have four entries to win:**

**1. Leave a comment: What do you do as a mom to help your kid’s math anxiety? Or do you have a question for Laura about Math anxiety? I’ll see if I can ask her to check back and answer any Math anxiety questions. **

**2. Please tweet this post and COME BACK and leave another comment.**

**3. Facebook about this contest and leave another comment.**

**4. Like Math for Grownups Facebook and leave your 4th entry. **

**The winner of this contest will be selected after Thursday, noon, PST.**

What a great book! My now-eighth grade daugther has always “gotten” math, like her father, but whenever she’s needed help with homework she’s ALWAYS gone to him for help. Even when I knew how to solve the problem and could have helped her, she’s always heard me say I am not good at math so she treats me like I’m totally clueless in that area.

I should have watched what I said!

Is there any hope of correcting that now?

Hi Christine,

It’s not too late! We don’t always want to share what we’re feeling with our kids — and sometimes that’s the right decision. But since you’ve recognized that you inadvertently sent her the wrong message, you can tell her what you’ve learned. This sends a very powerful message: it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them. Your daughter may not come to you with questions, but perhaps you can open a door for discussions about math — and even more important things!

And if your daughter does run into problems with math–and starts to feel anxious about it–she’ll hopefully know that you’re someone she can talk to!

Laura

This is probably too late, but I have to put it out there. Over the weekend my daughter was working on her makeup work (she missed 4 days last week from her migraine) and needed help with her math. She of course called her dad over to help. He couldn’t answer the question, I did…. and all weekend she asked me for help instead. I told her that it might not have been my easiest subject, but I still was an A student =) We did ask him for help on one I couldn’t remember how to solve, but he couldn’t either, so she emailed her teacher.

Then I couldn’t figure out a literature assignment (was one of my best subjects in school) but he could – so she’s learning that the stereotypes are not always correct and we can both help her.

I love that Laura said allow your kids to fail. The school system is the US is not designed that way. Our society /culture is not designed that way. We must compete. Have you noticed that mostly the kids who always get great grades get the awards, with the exception of Perfect Attendence and Citizenship. Why is there no award for the most improved? Where is the incentive for the kid who went from an F to a C to keep striving? Why are kids pushed to get good so they can possibly make a lot of money in the future? Why aren’t we taught to learn simply for the love of learning and discovery period?

melodyj(at)gmail(dot)com

Hi MelodyJ,

You are certainly on to something here. School can be a lot of pressure, but if we offer some low-key ways to look at math at home, we might be able to reduce the anxiety around everyday math.

Laura

Great advice Linda! Allowing kids to fail, talking about anxiety and being open with our mistakes (when appropriate of course!) are all SOOOO important!

Even thoughI was put in advanced math classes in jr. high I was that kid asking “why do I need to learn this?” and “how am I going to use math in life” …after the novelty and fun of it seeming like a puzzle to solve, I didnt go any farther than algebra 2 because no one could answer my questions.

Wish this book would have been around then!

Believe it or not, teachers really do struggle to answer the question, “When am I going to use this?” I took physics before I had calculus, and I remember in my calculus class thinking how much easier the physics would have been with those math skills! But we have to face it–most folks aren’t doing calculus or even algebra on a daily basis.

I’m planning a post on my Math for Grownups blog about the practicality of algebra, though. You know when we use basic algebra most often? Spreadsheets!

Thanks for your comment.

Laura

Laura, thank you for the reminder that math concepts will be introduced and then revisited many times, so those who don’t “get it” right away will have another crack at it. My son is anxious about math, anxious about failure, and wants to do it all for himself, so resistant to our help. We hired one of our old child care providers, who is now an elementary school teacher, to introduce some math concepts over the summer, so our son will be seeing them for the second time when they are presented in school. I’m hoping the repetition will ease his anxiety. Any tips for those of us who love math, but whose children don’t love our help with math?

A couple of years ago, I subbed in a 4th grade class, while the regular teacher was on maternity leave. Of course, that’s when we hit long division! This is one of the most complex algorithms (processes) to teach, and I was really scared! But I kept reminding myself and my students that long division is one of those skills that comes and goes at first. We get it one month and are totally confused the next. Think of all of the subjects like that: conjugation of French verbs, comma use, the number of sharps and flats in a musical scale. And that’s why all of these things are reviewed over and over.

As for helping your math anxious kid — I’d say you need to pick your battles. If you want to help him, simply because you like the math, I recommend backing off (especially if he’s really resistent). Find ways to do math more casually. Try gardening, DIY projects, cooking. You can subtly boost his confidence this way. And there’s a big bonus to this: it’s likely that these are the math skills he’ll rely on for the rest of his life!

Laura

I can’t wait to read this book. I’m so determined to overcome my math phobia that I decided to enroll in the elementary education track for my Master’s so that I can finally wrestle my math demons. What I learned in the classroom this summer was that the way they taught math in 1960’s Catholic grammar schools in NJ is completely different from the way it is taught today. Today’s students have a much better chance of developing their own number sense. Hurrah for Laura Laing for having written this book. There are so many of us who avoid numbers or who let them get the better of us– something that is completely unnecessary.

Does retweeting the post count? 😉

Sure, Christine, You can have up to four entries. And thank you for tweeting this again.

My son is an adult so my question concerns me. I’m almost 60 and I’ve been mathphobic (big time) since I was in 6th grade. At that point math just crashed and burned for me and I struggled for the rest of school. Now I am self studying for a designation related to my job (the job itself doesn’t require math ability) but I have to learn some equations for the Time Value of Money for the last exam. I look at that chapter and just freeze. I actually am telling myself “well, if I just skip that part and study real hard, I’ll still pass the test.” This is ridiculous! How do I conquer 50 years of Fear of Math?

You are so not alone! So cut yourself some slack. Many people freeze when they see any kind of math.

In fact, it’s such a common experience that I’ve decided to write a post on my blog about it. I’ll post the link when it’s finished.

Laura

I wrote a post to address your question, AM. http://mathforgrownups.com/2011/08/17/feeling-anxious-about-math-heres-how-to-cope/. Hope it helps!

Laura

I just tweeted this (as RamblinGarden). I would love a book to help me overcome this fear.

And, I just posted this on my Facebook wall, too.

I am a middle school math teacher and often come across students who have built up anxiety towards math as well as their parents. A lot of the anxiety comes from how their parent react towards their assignments. It’s amazing to me as an educator how deep rooted students’ feelings are towards math. It is a challenge and a reqarding experience when they finally get it. I love this book and I think it would be a great tool for any adult, parent, and educator to help make the process more comfortable and smooth. I have tweeted and like the facebook page as well. Thanks.