Parents pass on all kinds of traits to our kids, from hair and eye color to love of tragic movies or chocolate ice cream. One feature which parents certainly don’t want to hand down to their children, however, is their own anxiety about a particular school subject.
If you are afraid of words like division, fraction, addititon and multiplication and shudder even when you hear the term maths used in casual contexts, you may have a ‘math anxiety’. And now a new study has found that you could pass on this anxious nature related to mathematics to your kids too.
The research, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, established that children who had math-anxious parents were more likely to be math-anxious themselves. The research also instituted that these children learned less mathematics over the course of the school year.
The study was led by University of Chicago psychological scientists Sian Beilock and Susan Levine. Erin A. Maloney, a postdoctoral scholar in psychology at UChicago, was the lead study author, and Gerardo Ramirez and Elizabeth A. Gunderson were co-authors. The group of researchers has previously shed light on the fact that when teachers are anxious about mathematics, students learn less math during the school year.
The findings of the latest study establish a link between math-anxiety in parents and their children. They suggest that the way in which adults regard mathematics can influence a child’s math achievement to a great extent.
“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,” said Beilock, who is also a professor in psychology.
And Levine, the Rebecca Anne Boylan Professor of Education and Society in Psychology, explains this in a way that makes more sense. She adds, “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.”
438 students in the first and second grade and their primary caregivers were part of the study, and the kids were evaluated in their math achievements and anxiety before and after the school year. To have something to compare against – called a control, in scientific terms – the researchers looked at the kids’ reading achievements, which are not believed to be associated with their parents’ anxiety revolving around mathematics.
“Although it is possible that there is a genetic component to math anxiety,” the researchers wrote, “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 researchers also proposed tools to be developed to teach parents how to help their kids with mathematics. These tools can include math books, board games and even computer games, computer programs and apps.
Learn along with your kids, and you may find that math is not so scary afterall. And let kids know that they have the potential to change and improve their aptitude—you being a prime example.
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