4 May 2009 02:00 PM

Girls and Math Phobia

by Dr. Rick

One of the most common anxieties I've seen in my 40-year teaching career is from middle-school girls who have fallen for the "boys do better at math than girls" myth.  They've internalized the myth and have convinced themselves that math has no relevance to their lives, they're no good at it anyway, and if boys are so good at it, let them have it!  When it's time for math class, the girls feel anxious and uncomfortable, unable to do the work.


Here are some tips to break free of that myth and lower the anxiety level.


  1. Believe you can do it.  Don't fall for stereotyping.  It's damaging to your confidence, your skills, and your grades.  It's not fair to you.  Worry can affect your thought processes and your memory.  Don't listen to claptrap that boys are better at math (or sports, or science, or debate, or anything).  Laugh at it when you hear it.  The more you laugh at it, the more ridiculous the myth sounds and the stronger you’ll feel.  Commit yourself to improvement, strengthen your study habits, establish homework and study routines.  Stick to it.

  2. Get a "study buddy" to help you with math assignments, homework, studying for tests.  Having a study buddy will give you confidence, a supportive friend with similar goals, and the friendly challenge you need to stay on track.  It's sometimes easier to ask a study buddy questions you're not sure how to ask of a teacher.  Plus, when your grades begin to rise, you'll have someone to celebrate with!

  3. Get some extra help if you begin to feel your grades drop.  Get it early.  This may be a tutor, a teacher willing to come in early or stay late, an honor society student looking for community credit.

  4. Have a math mentor or role model.  This may sound silly, but you probably already know someone who's really, really good at math.  Look up to that person, notice how she studies, how she organizes herself for school or work.  It's good to have admirable people you can look up to.  Someday, you'll be someone's role model.

  5. Participate in math class.  Don't worry what other kids say.  Raise your hand whenever you can.  Ask questions, volunteer, provide answers.  Make sure your teacher calls on you as much as he calls on others.  Be persistent.  You'll find that you know as much as your classmates.  Before you know it, you'll be the one other kids look up to.

  6. Do positive self-talk.  Yes, talk to yourself.  Remind yourself of all the hard study time you're logging, of the work you're doing with your tutor or study buddy, of the improving grades on your quizzes, of the many times you've participated in class.  All of these things accumulate.  Positive self-talk can ease a lot of stress.

  7. Notice how you use math in everyday life.  You use math more than you think -- in stores as you shop, at home when you help with meals or chores, when you do crafts or other artwork, when you travel with your family, when you decide how to divide your allowance into spending and saving, when you determine how long it will take you to save for a particular goal.  Recognize that you're doing math.

  8. Recognize your math growth.  Every time you get a right answer, volunteer in class, raise your hand (whether you get called on or not), do well on a quiz, or help out a classmate, give yourself a silent high-five.  You're improving.

  9. Recognize your growing confidence.  Every little step forward is a step in the right direction.

  10. Celebrate your successes.  These don't have to be big celebrations, but take some time to celebrate with your study buddy, your role model, your friends and family. 

These steps are equally helpful with just about any subject, by the way, or with any anxiety you have.  The most important thing is to commit to improving, notice small improvements, and give yourself credit for erasing an anxiety from your life and replacing it with confidence.  Good luck!


P.S.  These suggestions will work for boys, too!


Dr. Rick




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