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The Key to Building Confidence In Learning Math

August 30, 2021
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By Lillie Therieau 


Did you know that over 50% of Americans admit to having math anxiety? That’s a huge number of people who carry some amount of negative math baggage! Math baggage and anxiety get passed down from parents and teachers to young students, who grow up to keep the cycle going. It’s a pattern, but a breakable one. 


Building confidence in math for your child can feel daunting and you may not be sure where to start. We believe that it’s actually a simple process. 


  1. Empower your child by letting them know you believe that they can do it. Eventually, they’ll believe that too! 
  2. Remove as much negative language around math from your language as possible.
  3. Don’t make emotions negative or positive. Your child will experience a broad range of emotions when working on math. It’s important that they process these emotions and get through them. 


Regardless of how you feel about math, your child is capable of learning math. These simple steps will help you ensure that you don’t pass your math anxiety on and that you help your child build up confidence in math. 


Empowering Your Child When Learning Math


One of the most powerful things that you can do as a parent, is to remind your child that they can do the math. They’re capable and you believe in them! However, it’s critical that you really mean it. Children can detect insincerity and subtle attitudes in your voice. 


Of course, it’s not that you don’t believe it because you don’t have faith in your child. For many parents, math anxiety clouds their view of the process. If you don’t believe that you can do the math and have lingering anxiety and fear, you’ll be passing that on to your child. You don’t believe that they can do it because you don’t believe anyone can. 


Elephant Learning founder Aditya Nagrath reminds us, “if you don't honestly believe that your student can do it, you will be subconsciously communicating to them that they cannot.” Human beings are amazing at detecting underlying meaning, and children are no exception. 


Think back to your own math journey. Where do you think things went awry? Was it a lack of support? Perhaps it was a math teacher who went too fast and left you behind. Maybe, your parents hated math and weren’t able or willing to help you catch up. Coming to terms with these barriers to your own math acquisition will help you understand the roots of your negative math emotions. 


Once you come to terms with that, you’ll be able to empower yourself and your child about learning math. You’ll realize that it is possible and that your own negative math experience is rooted in specific circumstances. Now you have the opportunity to break the cycle! 


When you keep reminding your child that it’s possible and that you believe in them, they’ll feel supported and confident. 


Cutting Out Negative Language


Negative language is an insidious force when it comes to speaking with our children. We may not even notice that some of these words slip into our language, but they make a big impact on impressionable young students. When you use negative language to refer to math, kids take notes. 


After all, if our parents hate math, why should we try to be good at it? If our role models don’t find it to be a useful or particularly desirable skill, we’ll go forward internalizing that. 


Using words like “fail”, “stupid”, “can’t”, or “too hard” reinforce anxiety and learned helplessness. This applies to speaking about an assignment that your child has performed poorly in. Instead of being angry or disappointed and reflecting on that in your language, try to remind your child that mistakes are part of the process and create room for further growth. 


Instead of telling them that they need to do better in the future, tell them that you know they can do better and are capable of succeeding. When your child gets a question right or aces an assignment, make use of opportunities to tell them you’re proud and knew that they could do it the whole time. 


Talented coaches and educators teach us that negative language has no helpful purpose in encouraging growth and success, especially in a situation like math. Encouragement, an empowering attitude, and support have been proven to be much more effective in fostering long-term success. 


 Of course, none of us are perfect. We all slip up from time to time. That’s fine! Just follow it up with positive reinforcement and remind your child that you know that they can do it. Even use these opportunities to be vulnerable and admit your own math anxiety to your student. Tell them why you feel uncertain about learning math, but make sure to let them know that you know it's possible, for them and for you! 


Emotions Are Natural When Learning Math, Don’t Suppress Them


Any tough subject inspires a range of emotions. Your child may feel frustrated when they don’t quite understand a concept, upset if they don’t do well on an assignment, or happy when they finally understand a tricky idea. All of these emotions are totally natural and should be encouraged. Students need to be allowed to feel these emotions and process them on their own time. 


As parents, we want our children to feel good all the time and to never be sad or scared. However, this just isn’t possible. When we interfere in these natural emotions and assign negative values to them, children aren’t able to process as they should. If we as parents try to help our children avoid anxiety and sadness, they’ll shy away from challenging concepts that make them feel those things. 


When they end up avoiding these emotions, they never learn how to get past them. They never realize that they have the power and control to deal with their emotions and to change their situation. 


The Final Step Is To Empower Yourself! 


A great way to embrace these tips and start to cope with your own math baggage is to make a personal profile on Elephant Learning. All Elephant Learning users can make up to three profiles per plan at sign up and later, they can add up to seven. 


We encourage parents to make a profile of their own and use the system for a while. As you play through the levels and get familiar with the platform, you’ll start to realize that what you’re teaching your child isn’t that complicated. You can do it easily and so can they! 


Alleviating your own math anxiety is the first step to helping your child build confidence in learning math.


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