Child Math Ability Hurt by Parent Anxiety
The way you behave around your kids has a profound impact on their lives. Whether you realize it or not. The same can be said about the environment that they grow up in.
Researchers are still uncovering how different experiences can affect children throughout their lives. One of their areas of interest is what affects academic abilities. The more we know about how they learn is not only useful, but impactful.
Scientists from the University of Chicago have now found evidence that a parent’s behavior towards math can affect how much a child will learn about it.
Math Whiz or Math Wimp
The study – published in Psychological Science – discovered that children learn less math over the school year when their parents are anxious about the subject.
So what would cause children to perform differently throughout the school year?
Levine – a scientist involved in the research – explains how this can affect the child:
“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.”
Children have an uncanny ability to pick up on what their parents say and do. Often the parents are oblivious to how they might be influencing their children.
Working Out the Math
The authors had 438 first and second grade students participate in the study.
They were test on their math ability at the beginning of the school year as well as assessed on their level of anxiety with the subject.
Parents were also required to fill out questionnaires about their own feelings on math, and how often they helped their child with homework.
To control for study reliability they also assessed children’s reading ability. In the end, they found that their reading ability wasn’t affected.
Beilock – another author on the study – summed up the study nicely by saying:
“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.”
The same group of researchers also have found in previous research that teachers who are anxious about math can also affect their students’ learning. Like parents, when teachers have high anxiety over math, the students learn less over the school year.
Their may be a possible genetic factor to the anxiety. However, the scientists believe that attitudes have a decidedly bigger effect. The lead researcher – Maloney – says this about the gene factor:
“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.”
If your math skills aren’t great as a parent, it’s natural to feel a little anxious. Your kids will notice your behavior, so it’s best to approach the subject with confidence as best you can.
The researchers suggest that parent preparation is important when helping kids with their homework. Even more important if you get nervous around math. Also, they note that using games or apps could help parents interact with their children with the subject in a positive way.
Also, if you want to give a boost to their math abilities, encourage your kids to get moving!