Maths anxiety in children

Maths anxiety

Heart beats faster and faster. Sweaty palms. Puzzled and confused. Everyone has some type of fear or anxiety. Imagine how you would feel when being faced with a maths question that leaves you in this state, the cause? Maths anxiety.

What is maths anxiety?

Maths anxiety is defined by Mark H. Ashcraft (2002) as ‘a feeling of tension and anxiety that interferes with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems in ordinary life and academic situations’. This shows that people not only suffer from anxiety when faced with a maths question, but due to the maths affecting aspects of our everyday lives, it can affect some people constantly. Now, of course everyone can have a different level of anxiety and it doesn’t always stop some people from doing well in maths. It is also possible to conquer maths anxiety and I will mention some of the ways teachers and parent can help children who suffer from it.

Does maths anxiety affect performance?

Well to this I ask: What came first, the chicken or the egg?

Random question, I know! But this theory can be applied to maths anxiety and performance in maths. And of course, there isn’t a clear-cut answer for this either. What came first? Ma (1999) provides evidence that people who suffer from maths anxiety are more likely to perform more poorly during assessments than those who do not suffer from it. Where it gets confusing is that we don’t know which caused which. Anxious thoughts could be what causes poorer performance in maths or it could be that struggling with maths causes anxious thoughts about mathematics. I personally feel it is my difficulty with maths that has stemmed my anxiety and this can be traced back to primary as there are some fundamental area of maths that I never got to grips with which meant anything that was built on top of these area as I got older I was anxious about and had no confidence. However, others may experience it the other way around for example if they go to school with a fear of maths from listening to people at home being negative about it, this may affect the from the start.


How will I defeat maths anxiety in my future classes?


Involvement: Ensuring parents are actively involved in helping their child with maths is proven to improve children’s success with maths. If a child sees their parent has a good relationship with maths, this will help them to have a better perception of it.


Positivity: As a teacher, I will ensure I use positive language surrounding maths and children’s abilities. Making sure children are not under pressure to answer questions they may not be confident about in front a whole class so that anxious feelings and loss of confidence never happen. I will also make sure to celebrate improvements and give assurance for any struggles they may have.


Fun and relevant lessons: Making lessons fun and relevant will allow children to realise that maths isn’t just a subject you need to learn for school. Highlighting that it is all around us in our everyday lives will motivate children to put more effort in to learn. Active lessons eg. groups competing against one another are great ways for children who are less confident working individually to learn from their peers. As there are no specific children in the spotlight it allows them to enjoy the activity without worry. Even adapting lessons around specific children’s interest eg. football or dancing, will engage them more and make them want to learn. Making sure to eliminate gender stereo types for future jobs by showing both genders achieving any many professions.


 Building knowledge slowly: Rote learning is often looked down on these days, however, I am someone who wishes I did learn some of the basics by rote to ensure they were instilled in my mind. Timetables were always an aspect of maths I never knew ‘off by heart’ and it caused to struggle with many other aspects of maths that depended on confidence with times tables. Therefore, with my class I would ensure that children are confident in fundamental maths so that building further knowledge isn’t daunting. Going slow doesn’t mean a child is bad at maths but it ensures they have thorough understanding before moving on which will, in the long run, make them more confident.  


Mistakes are allowed! Children must realise that maths is not all about getting every answer correct all the time. The process of solving the problem is just as important. My maths exams in school are what taught me about the importance of this, as one maths question could be worth 5 marks and within those 5, the correct answer was only worth 1 mark. Maths is about being able to process problems and being able to apply these skills to many different questions within maths or even real-life situations. The more pressure a child puts on their self to always be right, the more anxious it will cause them to be. It is also a good way to show all the alternative ways there are to find an answer to one question and all of them are correct if it leads you in the right direction.

8 Practical Ways to Conquer Your Child

(Taken from


As a committed, professional developing teacher at university, I am determined to work hard over the next few years and freshen up my maths skills to ensure my past and current feelings of maths anxiety do not affect the children in my classes. After writing this blog post I have already given myself an open mind and confidence in myself that I can do it! I want to teach children, the way I have mentioned above, to be confident in maths concepts and problem solving with the hopes that anxiety will never affect them.



 Ashcraft (2002). MATH ANXIETY: PERSONAL, EDUCATIONAL, AND COGNITIVE CONSEQUENCESCurrent Directions in Psychological Science 181-185.


Mukisa, C. (2017). 8 Practical Ways to Conquer Your Child’s Math Anxiety | Maths Tips From Maths Insider. [online] Maths Tips From Maths Insider. Available at: [Accessed 25 Oct. 2017].

the Guardian. (2017). The fear of all sums: how teachers can help students with maths anxiety. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 Oct. 2017].




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