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What is maths anxiety, and what causes it?

maths anxiety

With learning gaps having widened as a result of lockdown, a lot of children may be feeling a little worried that they’re behind in school or are ‘no good’ at maths. Thoughts such as these can often lead to maths anxiety.

While it may sound worrying, the good news is that it can be overcome! Below, we take a look at what the term means and what causes it, helping you to rebuild your child’s confidence in maths.


What is maths anxiety?

According to the Maths Anxiety Trust, maths anxiety is “a negative emotional reaction to mathematics, leading to varying degrees of helplessness, panic and mental disorganisation”.

It can cause children to feel worried about maths and to try and avoid it, both in and outside of the classroom.

This can also lead to a dip in performance, with various studies showing a negative relationship between maths anxiety and attainment (Hembree, 1990; Ma and Kishor, 1997; Evans, 2000).


Who is affected by maths anxiety?

Maths anxiety is something that affects lots of us. According to a study by the University of Cambridge, around 1 in 10 children suffer from the phenomenon. Most worryingly, it can continue into secondary school and beyond, with 36% of 15 to 24-year-olds in the UK feeling anxious about maths.

And it’s not just children. An estimated 1 in 5 adults in the UK feel anxious when shown a maths problem, and 1 in 4 don’t feel able to teach their children addition and subtraction without a calculator.

With children as much as three months behind in their learning following lockdown, it’s never been more important to tackle the issue head-on and start rebuilding children’s confidence in maths!

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What causes maths anxiety?

The pressure to perform well

In school, children often feel under pressure to work quickly to keep up with the rest of the class. They may also feel embarrassed if they’re asked to share an answer or their workings out.

This anxiety can be made worse by the responses of adults. If they’re told that a question is ‘easy’ or ‘we just learnt about this’, they may be reluctant to answer further questions. They may also feel under pressure to perform well to avoid disappointing their teachers and parents.

Not learning at the correct level

If a child is set work that is too far ahead in the curriculum or includes content they don’t yet fully understand, their confidence may be knocked. They may think that they’re struggling because they’re ‘not clever enough’ to keep up.

Our personal learning experiences

Our own learning experiences can also significantly affect how children perceive maths. If you still have horrifying flashbacks about reciting the seven times table in front of your class, it’s quite likely your child will sense this!


How can maths anxiety be overcome?

With a positive attitude and a little determination, parents and teachers have the power to transform a child’s anxieties into a love of learning.

We’ve got lots of tips to help transform your child’s opinion of maths into an engaging adventure. Take a look at our activity ideas to help them feel confident about maths!


Overcoming maths anxiety with DoodleMaths

DoodleMaths is specifically designed to help children overcome maths anxiety. By setting work at just the right level and rewarding effort over ability, it enables all learners to work independently and experience success.

With thousands of interactive exercises, educational games and collectables to enjoy, it transforms maths learning into an engaging and rewarding adventure. Why not give it a go?

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