If math isn’t your child’s best subject, then it’s probably no surprise that he may feel anxious when it comes to learning how to solve problems. Add testing into the mix, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for frustration, anger, and stress when it comes to his feelings toward school. Oftentimes it feels like kids will ace practice problems and homework, but when they take the test, their mind goes blank and they can’t remember what 8 x 6 is!
When your child is really anxious, the frontal lobe of their brain essentially shuts off and freezes. The frontal lobe is responsible for thinking critically and processing problem solving. After the frontal lobe shuts off, the medulla takes over and emits all the emotions like stress and anxiety. When the frontal lobe isn’t functioning to its full capacity, that’s when it feels like information can’t be processed correctly.
There’s a great study that shows the difference between kids with test anxiety vs. kids without test anxiety when taking an exam. Before a test in the experiment, each student wrote down all of their anxieties on a piece of paper. They wrote things like, “Well, if I don’t get an 85% on this Math test, I won’t get a 90% for the quarter and I won’t get into the college I really want to.” Or they wrote, “My dad’s going to be so mad at me if I don’t get a B.” They scribbled down all of their biggest fears before taking the test, and the researcher found that when that happened, the students performed just as well as their non-anxious peers! Essentially, when you get out all of the anxieties and nerves beforehand, your brain functions much more efficiently.
It’s also important to know that sometimes test anxiety is actually the result of poor preparation. I’ve had a lot of kids tell me over the years, “You know, Mrs. Dolin, math is one of those subjects that you either know or you don’t know. You just can’t study for Math.” And that’s completely untrue! In fact, taking the study guide and reworking those problems two or three times to review is a great way to keep up your math skills.
The New Wave of Learning Math
Parents often say that they can’t help their kids with math the way that they thought they could and that’s because math is taught very differently than it was 20 or 30 years ago! In fact, there’s a lot less focus on rote memorization and a lot more focus on problem solving. When we learn to do a computation, like 13 times 4, we just knew how to do it because we memorized the steps. Now, kids are learning why they start with the one’s column first and why they regroup instead of carrying the number over.
You have 3 options when your kid is stuck with math: 1) You can just say, “this is how you do it”, and show them the way that you learned. Inevitably, they’ll say, “Well, that’s not how my teacher does it.” 2) You can say, “You know what? I already went to fifth grade. This is your homework, not mine. You figure it out,” but then your child probably won’t feel supported. 3) You can say, “Are there any examples in your book? Do you have any similar problems in your notes?” This is probably the best option because you’re not doing their homework for them, but you’re showing them how to find solutions on their own. This helps build independence and helps in the long-run!
Consider a Tutor Before Frustration Occurs
Just because you aced math in college doesn’t mean you’re a great math tutor. I remember once, when I was in eighth grade and I was taking Algebra, and my father, the engineer, came into my room to help with math homework. Because he knew I was struggling, he offered to help me. Now, I really wanted the help, but I didn’t necessarily want it from him, but I agreed. We sat down and worked through an order of operations problem, he said the answer is negative and I said, “No dad, it’s positive, it’s positive because before there are parentheses here” and we got into a huge argument about whether the number was negative or positive!
The more we argued, the angrier he got until he stood up from the table and grabbed the math textbook. I shot up from my seat as he threw it at the wall behind me and pages flew everywhere! My mom rushed in and said, “That’s enough. I’m going to get somebody to help Ann.” Ultimately, that was such a great decision on my mom’s part because although my father wanted to help me and he was experienced in the subject, he just wasn’t the right teacher for me.
Even if you or your spouse excel at a subject, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re the best teacher. If your child’s school has office hours or an opportunity for them to go before school, or attend a homework club, take advantage of it. Encourage your child to go ask for help. Kids don’t always ask for help unless they have assistance from their parents. Work with a tutor who specializes in one-to-one tutoring so they can give their undivided attention and build the math confidence and grades.