Parents can spur math anxiety and poor math performance in children, a new study suggests.
“We often don’t think about how important parents’ own attitudes are in determining their children’s academic achievement. But our work suggests that if a parent is walking around saying ‘Oh, I don’t like math’ or ‘This stuff makes me nervous,’ kids pick up on this messaging and it affects their success,” study co-leader Sian Beilock said in a news release from the Association for Psychological Science.
Beilock is a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago.
For the study, researchers assessed math achievement and math anxiety among 438 first- and second-grade students. They also asked the children’s parents about their levels of math anxiety and how often they helped their kids with math homework.
The results showed that children of math-anxious parents learned less math during the school year and were more likely to be math-anxious if their parents frequently helped them with math homework.
“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,” study co-leader Susan Levine, a professor of education and society in psychology at the university, said in the news release.
The link between parents’ and children’s math anxiety has more to do with attitude than genetics, Beilock and Levine said.
“Although it is possible that there is a genetic component to math anxiety, the fact that parents’ math anxiety negatively affected children only when they frequently helped them with math homework points to the need for interventions focused on both decreasing parents’ math anxiety and scaffolding their skills in homework help,” the study authors wrote.
The study was published recently in the journal Psychological Science.
The researchers said tools that could improve parents’ ability to help their children with math include math books, computer and board games, and Internet apps.
Previous research by the same investigative team found that when teachers are anxious about math, their students learn less math during the school year.
The American Academy of Pediatrics outlines how parents can help children develop good homework habits.