Decoded: What causes ‘math anxiety’ in school kids

London, March 14: Is your daughter more anxious over maths than your son? Blame gendered stereotypes about mathematics as well as anxiety of both teachers and parents, finds a study.

While mathematics is often considered a hard subject, not all difficulties with the subject result from cognitive difficulties. Many children and adults experience feelings of anxiety, apprehension, tension or discomfort when confronted with a maths problem.

The study, led by researchers from the University of Cambridge, showed that maths anxiety is seen more in girls than boys. The gender gap stems from the gendered stereotypes about the ability to crack maths.

Primary-aged children noted that they had been confused by different teaching methods, while secondary students commented on poor interpersonal relations with their math teachers.

Secondary students indicated that the transition from primary to secondary school had been a cause of maths anxiety, as the work seemed harder and they could not cope.

“Teachers, parents, brothers and sisters and classmates can all play a role in shaping a child’s maths anxiety,” Ros McLellan from the varsity’s Faculty of Education, said in a statement.

“Parents and teachers should also be mindful of how they may unwittingly contribute to a child’s maths anxiety. Tackling their own anxieties and belief systems in maths might be the first step to helping their children or students,” McLellan added.

In a sample of 1,000 Italian students, the team found that girls in both primary and secondary school had higher levels of both maths anxiety and general anxiety.

More detailed investigation in 1,700 UK school children found that a general feeling that maths was more difficult than other subjects often contributed to maths anxiety, leading to a lack or loss of confidence.

Students also pointed to poor marks or test results, or negative comparisons to peers or siblings as reasons for feeling anxious.

Teachers and parents need to be aware that their own maths anxiety might influence their students’ or child’s maths anxiety, the researchers said.

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