Math anxiety is something we are not born with. A new study by psychologists at the University of Cambridge reveals that some children learn to fear mathematics; a phobia that can affect how they approach the subject at school, as well as determine the profession they may choose later on. This research shows that most children are actually not bad at math, at least not from the start.

In the tests related to the study, as many as 80 percent of the kids who reported the biggest levels of math anxiety turned out to be average or high achievers. According to Dénes Szücs, Ph.D., the deputy director of University of Cambridge’s Center for Neuroscience in Education, math anxiety can be so stressful that it may keep students away from the field, with their performance sinking even lower over time.

Math anxiety can indeed impair math skills in the long term; because of it, children will do worse than what their original abilities would allow, with many fully "math-able" students being excluded from great STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers. In fact, poor results in math do not mean that the students don't understand the matter; most of the time it only means that they are freaked out about it.

But how to combat math anxiety? Szücs says that teachers should first try to be consistent when they explain the material, in order to avoid confusion; he adds that both parents and teachers have a key role to play in keeping children calm about math. An adult who continuously calls math difficult can really instill the idea in a young mind that math is really hard, even too hard, with some potentially fatal consequences.

Picture: Math Olympics 2017 (Arcanys Early Learning Foundation)