Math-anxious parents could undermine children’s math-learning ability: Study

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Math lessons
A Newark Prep Charter School student listens to math teacher, Faiza Sheikh (not pictured), give a lesson at the school in Newark, New Jersey April 16, 2013. Reuters

New research found a persons's math struggle may have been an influence from their parent’s math anxiety. Parents who convey their math struggles frequently while helping their child in doing math homework may affect that kids would learn less of math.

Prior to the new study, researchers first discovered the relationship of math-anxious teachers to their students who learn less math during the school year. They suggest that attitude of adults toward math can play an important role in children’s math achievement.

In the current study published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers linked math anxiety between parents and children based on the first concept of instructor anxiety. The leader of the study and psychological scientist Sian Beilock from University of Chicago said if a parent says “Oh, I don’t like math" or "This stuff makes me nervous," kids pick up the message and affects their success.

The attitudes of the parents are important in determining their children’s academic achievement, Beilock said. In addition, “math-anxious parents may be less effective in explaining math concepts to children, and may not respond well when children make a mistake or solve a problem in a novel way,” co-leader Dr Susan Levine said in a report from the Association for Psychological Science. 

For the study, 438 student between first and second grade participated with their primary caregivers. The math achievement and math anxiety of the children were assessed at the beginning and end of the school year, while their parents answered a questionnaire about their nervousness and anxiety on math and how frequent they helped their children with math homework.

With the tests, researchers believe the math anxiety of both parents and their children was influenced more from attitudes than genetics. They stated that parental anxiety toward math negatively affected children but only when the parents frequently helped their children with math homework. However, there is a possibility that a genetic component links to math anxiety, they added.

Beilock and the research team suggest developing tools that could teach parents on how to most effectively help their children with math. The tools may include math books, computer and traditional board games, or Internet apps, which would “allow parents to interact with their children around math in positive ways.”

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