How can we overcome the maths anxiety?

Maths Anxiety in numbers by Pearson

Maths anxiety and the need to start at the ground level and build up maths skills, knowledge and understanding are completely tied together. Because of this, I have designed and developed Primary Maths Catch Up to both start at the beginning, but also reduce anxiety. As you can see from the infographic ‘Maths anxiety in numbers’, the level of maths anxiety is very high. These figures were compiled by Pearson (one of the exam boards) and show how prevalent the fear of doing anything maths-related is.

Maybe you can see yourself or your child in these statistics?

Sadly, most parents will identify with at least one of these statistics…

…so how do we do something about it? What can I do as a parent?

As I mentioned in my blog post ‘What is it like to be a parent of a child with maths anxiety?’ there is a huge link between anxiety and processing speed and working memory.

When we become anxious, our brains divert almost all brainpower to our’ fight or flight’ brain. As this happens, our processing speed and working memory get much less brainpower than usual. Which is like having many tabs or windows open on your computer and it, therefore, taking longer to load a screen.

The more anxious you are, the less your brain allows you to process your thoughts at your best possible speed. Thereby you become more anxious as you can’t do that task and so on and so on, becoming a horrible downward spiral.

If we can break the anxiety spiral for your child, by starting back at the beginning and succeeding and winning and enjoying maths, we can alter the whole future of their maths learning journey.

The Growth Zone Model

The target graphic shows the Growth Zone Model. “When pupils are in the Anxiety Zone, healthy learning cannot take place. The aim should instead turn to how to reduce the anxiety as quickly and supportively as possible.” This is all about building resilience in Primary maths pupils.

The Comfort Zone is where a learner could be working on familiar activities probably independently, building their self-confidence and providing them with practice opportunities. Children like being in this comforting situation, playing familiar games or activities, feeling happy and secure. Which is one of the reasons why in Primary Maths Catch Up courses, we repeat activities daily until children are completely confident with them. They should feel in the Comfort Zone quite quickly as soon as they understand the task, and then be able to relax and start to enjoy them.

By initially reducing the difficulty of the task to one that is within the Comfort Zone it means that their anxiety level will drop, now that the task is no longer causing them anxiety they have an excellent chance of going on to understand the concept and then gain mastery in it.

If we can then keep building on that task, adding more and more concepts, and we can move them into the Growth Zone – which is the best zone to be in. The Growth Zone is where new learning happens – so here, it should be safe to make mistakes, get stuck, require support, and find activities challenging and tiring.

At the moment, your child probably doesn’t have the resilience to be in that challenging zone and will become agitated if pushed back into it too quickly. If we can also reduce time pressure in tasks, this will also make a big difference, as being pushed for time in itself causes extra anxiety.

By starting with simple concepts, which definitely will need re-learning anyway, we can foster and grow your child’s resilience and then be able to push them on into the Growth Zone as the activities become a bit harder.

By playing the games or doing the activities and rather than struggling they will find that they succeed and start to thrive, and will begin to see that maths isn’t the scary and awful thing, that they had previously thought.

Work your way through the activities and games in Primary Maths Catch Up. Stick with it, and together, we will build in the correct order, all the concepts, from the ground up. We can stop the self-fulfilling prophecy of ‘I am rubbish at maths’ and start to turn around their maths learning journey.


If you do nothing else, just by understanding how the Growth Zone model works, you now know that the key to helping your child – is to lower their anxiety and then build resilience.

Why not give it a try? 

What are your experiences of your child’s maths anxiety? 

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