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Math Anxiety in Students

Math Anxiety in High School Children

If we talk about Math Anxiety, there has been increasing media coverage in the past five years about the rise in anxiety among ordinary citizens. Rightfully so, as more than 40 million Americans suffer from some form of anxiety & depression. But while ordinary adults are suffering from anxiety, there is an even more alarming trend taking place with children these days in the United States & Canada. Children, especially in the modern world, are under much more pressure than prior generations. However, some pressure remains the same regardless of generational gaps.

Math has garnered a reputation for being a challenging topic, and this reputation has extended decades in the past, causing immense anxiety among children. The anxiety associated with math has become so pronounced the term “math anxiety” is now used in medical circles. Between 20-25% of children report having some form of math anxiety, starting as early as elementary school. However, the cohort that experiences a high degree of math anxiety is children in high school.

Below, we will examine the origins of math anxiety, what anxiety is, why high school children suffer from math anxiety, and how to help them cope with the anxiety or stress.  

Math Anxiety in Students

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is the feeling of dread, fear, and unease. Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • The feeling of restlessness and tension
  • Increased blood pressure

There are many theories as to why anxiety arises in anyone, but the dominant theories believe anxiety has three main origins: genetics, brain biology, and stress.

Why are high school children suffering from math anxiety?

For most high schoolers, the math anxiety they are currently experiencing began early in their school life, typically in their elementary years, either through their inability to grasp certain lessons or their lack of speed in solving problems.

For example, their friends pick up the concept of long division, but they need help finding it. This difficulty can create the onset of anxiety, as the child begins to feel they are falling behind, even if the issue is minor.

Another example is suppose a teacher places a problem on the board for the class to solve, two kids raise their hands while the other child is confused and needs extra time. While they may eventually come to the answer on their own, the fact that they cannot solve it as fast as their peers creates the concept that “math is too hard” or that only “special” kids are good at math.

This concept then leads to a growing disconnect when lessons occur and encourages the child to stop studying, leading to a cycle of failing tests. The failing of tests reinforces their mindset that math is too complicated and creates a “what’s the point” mentality.

Aside from these two occurrences, a child with a good grasp of the topics and speed in answering questions can still develop math anxiety through perception.

The language around math is often that it is difficult and will only get more complicated as you advance through the school system. Many high school children with math anxiety have been hearing these messages through society since they were children, creating this fear about math in high school. They also hear that math is one of the most important subjects in high school.

So, before they have the curriculum, there is a fear of what they will discover and added anxiety about not failing. They already concluded they would be unable to manage the difficulty level, leading to the same cycle mentioned earlier of poor study habits, causing them to be unprepared for tests, failing the tests, and increasing the anxiety they experience from math.

Also, there is increasing general anxiety from the belief that because they are not good at math, they will not be able to succeed in the long run. This cycle is why a lot of children with math anxiety often do not finish graduate school and are less likely to go into STEM careers.

How can you treat math anxiety in students?

It has been well established that any form of anxiety can not be cured but instead managed. The ways of managing math anxiety in a high school require a combined effort from both the educator and caregiver. Some of the ways to help a child with math anxiety are the following:

  • Manage the language around math: The prior section mentioned that one of the origins of math anxiety is the perception that math is complicated. You will want to change the language around math and help the child understand that math, while sometimes difficult, is conquerable.
  • Help develop study skills: A child unable to study for a math test will only experience more anxiety associated with the subject. You want to help the child develop healthy studying skills. This help may require getting the child tutoring or personally helping the child through their work. The aim is to keep the child on top of the subject so they do not fall behind. If they fall behind and fail the test, they will simply give up on the topic.
  • Create an open environment: You want to pay attention to signs that a child is suffering from math anxiety, but you also want to create an environment where the child can come to you about your struggles. Children find it hard to express their thoughts and are often afraid to do so. You want to create an environment that welcomes discussions about mental health so the child feels more comfortable opening up and expressing their struggles.

If possible, you want to prevent the development of math anxiety from a young age. You can offset this development by paying close attention to the child and their experiences with math; however, once the child has reached high school and still suffers from severe math anxiety, it is crucial to help them through this struggle. Many children who suffer from math anxiety keep this anxiety into adulthood. To avoid this outcome, following the steps above will better help the child cope with their anxiety.


Anxiety is growing in prominence in public discord and occurrence in individuals. The environment is becoming increasingly more friendly to people to talk about their struggles with anxiety. But while most people focus on anxiety associated with stress at work or home. Many people forget the anxiety related to school and the anxiety school-age children experience not just in the social arena but the academic arena as well.

One of the main topics most people struggle with is math, so it’s natural for children to develop anxiety around the topic. The stress of not understanding the topic and further stress once failing grades are brought to them only exaggerate the problem. The best solution is to get ahead of it when a child is in elementary school. If not, work to guide the child out of this negative mindset associated with math. The anxiety level can decrease once the child has a more positive relationship with math.

You can contact Ameenah from Positive Enlightenment for your children’s counselling and support in overcoming math anxiety. With Ameenah’s expertise and compassionate approach, children can learn effective strategies to manage their anxiety and develop a more positive relationship with math, paving the way for academic success and improved mental well-being.