Maths anxiety – does your child have maths anxiety?

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Maths Anxiety - What are the signs?

Does your child dread tests and exams? Are their results lower than you feel they should be? Do they go blank when they are asked to work something out in their head? If so, your child may have maths anxiety.

Understanding the Prevalence of Maths Anxiety


Maths anxiety can be experienced as young as 5 years old and, as children go through schooling, more students experience maths anxiety. In fact, in the UK, it is estimated that around 36% of students aged 15 to 24 experience maths anxiety, with it being more prevalent in girls than boys. (Image from

Personal Experience with Maths Anxiety

Having taught and tutored Maths for many years, I experience maths anxiety on occasions. I clearly remember going to tutor a 16 year old for his Maths GCSE and we were working on percentages. It was my very first session tutoring this child and, to my surprise, as soon as I looked at the questions on percentages, my mind went completely blank. My heart beat faster and I just panicked. Suddenly, after being able to do percentages confidently for many years, I just didn’t know how to answer the questions, let alone explain it. I didn’t understand what had happened, especially as, when I got home and looked at the questions again, I could answer them easily. I was totally confused. What had happened and why?

A couple of years later, I discovered this thing called maths anxiety. Immediately, I recognised that this was what had happened to me. But I thought that, “I am good at Maths, surely this is only for people who find Maths tricky.” In fact, many people who would be considered to be good at Maths, do suffer from maths anxiety.

Signs of Maths Anxiety

Physical symptoms of Maths Anxiety

Your child may be experiencing some or all of the following physical symptoms:

  • Rapid heart rate;
  • Sweating;
  • Complaining of headaches and tummy aches;
  • Biting nails; and
  • Going blank.

Other Indicators of Maths Anxiety

There are many other possible signs that could indicate maths anxiety, including:

  • Answering every question with, “I don’t know.”
  • Not being able to get started;
  • Not showing working out;
  • Only choosing to answer easier questions;
  • Diverting and trying to change subject so focus is away from Maths;
  • Taking a very long time to answer; and
  • Doing everything they can not to do the work.

Strategies to Help Your Child

Importance of Positive Communication

The most important thing that you, as a parent, can do to help is to talk positively about Maths with your child. Developing a positive attitude towards Maths makes a huge difference. Many of the children that I tutor are extremely nervous in their first session. Their experience of Maths is that it is hard, they are no good at Maths and the last thing they want is to have extra Maths sessions! However, every single one of these children have left their first session with me asking to come back! For some of them, it is the first time in several years that they felt successful. Not only do I teach Maths, I talk about their feelings about Maths, how people learn, that everyone makes mistakes and this is a good thing as it shows we are learning, and that everyone learns at different speeds and, as long as you are moving forwards, you are doing really well. We look at what they found difficult at the beginning of the session, where they are now, and what happened to get them to the new point. I believe that these discussions are just as important as the Maths that I teach.

Reframing Negative Attitudes Towards Maths

Your child most likely has a negative attitude towards Maths. Maybe you hear them saying:

“I’m rubbish at maths, I’ll never be good at maths.’

Encourage your child to reframe this by saying something like,

“Right now, I am finding Maths difficult but if I work hard, I can get better.”

Embracing Mistakes and Learning from Them

"I only got 4 out of 10 on my test. Everyone else did so much better than me."

Encourage your child to acknowledge that the test was difficult and look at what they did get right. Talk about the fact that a while ago, they didn’t know and understand the questions they got right. The ones they got wrong show what they still need to work on and that is ok.

Talk to your child about mistakes and that mistakes are good and necessary. Mistakes show that your child is on a learning journey that isn’t complete. We learn from our mistakes and we want to make mistakes because it shows that we are learning 

There are lots of different images about failing and making mistakes on the internet that are helpful for your child to see. Perhaps your child could create one for themself to remind them that mistakes are necessary.

Have you ever suffered from Maths anxiety? What were the signs for you? When you are helping your child, does it bring back those same feelings? 

Catherine Rooke

A specialist international maths tutor helping children with maths anxiety, maths difficulties and dyscalculia have positive maths experiences.