By Germain Tanoh, PhD : In today’s competitive academic and job market, students are under pressure to obtain the best possible grades. Every parent has high expectation for their children. They want to see their children achieve academic excellence in math. This is a legitimate expectation. But with higher expectations come a very negative and unexpected outcome – anxiety. Anxiety is a man made emotion. It can diminish your child ability to succeed. That is why your child math test preparation must include an emotional component. Parents must create at home a positive, safe and supportive environment where their child can learn knowing that they still love him/her regardless of their scores.
What is Math Anxiety?
Math is seen as a rational subject, and most people think that emotions play no role in doing math. It is true that mathematical reasoning may not include an emotional component, but your emotion has a huge incidence on the accuracy of your logical reasoning all along the way.
Math anxiety is an intense emotional feeling of anxiety that people have about their ability to understand and do mathematics. According to Wikipedia, anxiety is a complex combination of the feeling of fear, apprehension and worry often accompanied by physical sensations such as palpitations, chest pain and/or shortness of breath. Studies showed that negative classroom math experiences, combined with lack of parent support and fear of math tests, were major contributors to math anxiety.
Parents Contribution to Test Anxiety
Everyone from psychiatrist to teachers agree that parents are a major contributor to test anxiety. Parents are the most important persons in a young child’s life. Most children want to please their parents. They will do anything to seek the approval, acceptance, and love of their parents. Being excellent in math is more about winning parental admiration than it is about self esteem. In fact, a child’s self esteem is often defined by how proud he/she makes his/her parents. If you value higher test score in your home, you will tend to blame your child if he/she doesn’t perform well in class. You may feel the need to reduce his/her play time and coerce him/her into studying more. It may work, only for a short while, but in the long run it will contribute to create more anxieties. There exists better ways parents can help their child achieve academic excellence.
What Parents Can Do
Parents should help their child take control of his/her fears of math test so that he/she can perform at his/her best. Here are some tips that will help you reduce your child math test anxiety.
• Sending positive messages. The verbal messages adults send to kids are critical to creating an environment in which math test anxiety is nourished or reduced. Parents should avoid statements like “You better study for the math test next week. I heard that it is very hard” the message it conveys is “The test is hard, you better prepare”. It does not stimulate the student to study, all it does it to increase its level of anxiety. Instead ask question, it is less critical in tone and more appropriate to foster a discussion or dialogue. For instance consider the following restatement as question: “Do you know what is covered on the math test? Do you feel prepared?” Asking rather than telling, listening rather than talking, engaging in a dialogue rather than lecturing, will motivate your child to study and reduce his/her anxiety.
• Developing effective math study habits. The more prepare students feel for a test, the less likely that anxiety will interfere with his/her ability to perform well during the test. At school, teachers do not spend enough time teaching their students how to study for an exam or how to read a math textbook. Mathematics is not like other courses. It requires a different study process. All he/she has to do to succeed in other courses is to read, understand, and recall the subject material. To pass math, an extra step is required: Your child must use the information he/she has learned to solve math problems accurately. Study skills are note innate, they can be learned. Parent should provide the necessary support to fill the learning skill gap. If your child comes into an exam with a feeling of preparedness he/she will be less likely to experience the physical effects of anxiety. He/her heart will beat at a normal rate.
• Setting realistic expectations. Resist the temptation to measure your child’s math performance against those of his/her friends, or family members. Learning math is not a competition. It is necessary to be realistic in the kind of challenges you set for your child. First assess your child capability to find out his/her weakness and strength. Set an easily reachable goal. For instance if your child is failing math, set his/her goal to a C and be patient by giving him/her enough time to reach this goal. It will boost his/her self-confident; reduce math anxiety so that it can achieve more challenging gaols, like getting a B or an A. Acknowledge and reward any success an achievement even small. Be supportive and let your child knows that you still love him/her regardless of his/her math scores. Gradually you will see the positive change.
• Providing tutoring. Once a goal has been set, parents should provide math learning support to their children. Tutoring can contribute significantly to your child’s self-image, attitude toward math, learning skills, and long-term retention of what is being learned. In addition to increase math understanding, tutoring can greatly reduce math anxiety. If your child math anxiety is too high or uncontrollable, you should try the service of a professional math tutor. Tutoring your child by yourself or sibling can be very frustrating and may cause more damages than good. A close relative rarely has the patience and objectivity to teach your child who is challenged by learning math and feels frustrated.
About the Author: Dr. Germain Tanoh is Director, Learning Support at Hello Math. He is an entrepreneur and educator, and holds a Ph.D. degree in Applied Mathematics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org