Math-Anxious Parents Breed Math-Anxious Kids

Families either win the numbers game or don't.

If math freaks your parents out, don’t ask them for help on your trig homework. New research from the University of Chicago published in the journal Psychological Science shows that math-anxious parents pass on that stress to their kids when they try to help with homework.

Parents are encouraged to be active in their children’s education, but this study suggests we should look at how they’re involved. First-and second-graders who got help from their math-anxious parents actually ended up learning less and feeling more anxious by the end of the school year. They just learned to be scared.

This is the first study to firmly establish a link between the math anxiety of parents and their kids. Dr. Sian Beilock, whose lab led the study, thinks we should pay more attention to parents’ attitudes when it comes to helping their kids. Their work, he said in a press release, 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.”

But it doesn’t mean parents should stop trying to help: The researchers hope that their work can help develop tools for parents to learn how to help their kids. Whether it’s through books, computer and board games, or apps, the trick is to get parents to “interact with their children around math in positive ways,” the researchers wrote.

For kids, these interventions could be the key to ending a family legacy of anxiety — as long as their parents don’t freak out first.

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