York University Professor Reveals Effective Strategies to Overcome Math Anxiety in Children


While the learning of mathematical equations and problem-solving may bring joy to some children, for others, the experience can be far from enjoyable. The prevailing sense of math anxiety or feeling of not being “a math person” is a predicament that can indeed be circumvented, insists Tina Rapke. As an associate professor at York University, Rapke works directly with kindergarten through eighth-grade students and teachers, addressing these pervasive math-related insecurities.

According to Rapke, math anxiety, cruel as it may sound, commences in kindergarten. It operates much like a virus, effortlessly passed on from teachers to students, or from anxious parents to their unsuspecting children.

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Setting the stakes higher, the mere utterance of a phrase such as, “I’m not a math person,” by a parent in their child’s presence, can cast a detrimental shadow over that child’s perception of their inherent math capabilities. Rapke ardently encourages parents to refrain from such negatively-worded self-deprecation.

Reassuringly, a nationwide study entitled “Barriers & Bridges in Canadian Learning,” reveals that 49 percent of Canadian parents admitted to feeling intimidated by their children’s math homework during the global health crisis of the pandemic.

While parents may wrestle with their personal math insecurities, part of bolstering the confidence in a child’s mathematical proficiency entails acknowledging the existence of math anxiety, Rapke advises. It’s not simply a dislike for the subject.

This recognition by parents may manifest through attentive listening to a child’s feelings surrounding math, while for teachers it may involve facilitating practical activities where students pictographically represent their relationship with math.

A highly effective approach to mitigating math anxiety, as per Rapke, is enhancing the students’ confidence. Recognizing excellence in mathematical performance and boosting their self-assurance is crucial. Equally important is the emphasis on the process of thought that underscores their math problem-solving, breaking away from the dichotomy of right and wrong answers.

Rapke recommends an exercise where a student is asked a math question and subsequently walks the educator through the process that led to their answer. This approach allows tutors to comprehend the unique thought processes of individual students, thus enabling tailoring of teaching methods.

The true essence of reducing math anxiety, therefore, lies in making students feel secure in their abilities. Rapke highlights that this becomes especially vital as children mitigate back-to-school apprehensions while ushering in a new academic year.

Ultimately, the end goal remains happiness of the children. “If they’re going to enjoy it, they’ll have to work hard, but we can help them through those challenging times by providing unwavering support and a keen ear,” Rapke concludes.