Parenting + Education

Can your anxiety as a parent, around math, be passed on to your child?             By: Dale Markowitz, LCSW

My work with parents is often focused around their insecurities, confusion and anxieties about their children and their behaviors.  Did you know that parents can pass on their fears and nervousness about math when helping their children with their math homework and math related activities?  Researchers have known for years that teachers with math anxieties can create negative attitudes and insecurities about math in their students. A recent study from the University of Chicago of 450 1st and 2nd graders and their caregivers has established a link between the socialization process between parent and child during homework and the transmission of parental anxieties and negative attitudes about math. The study concluded that “when parents are more anxious, their children learn significantly less math over the school year and have more math anxiety by the school year’s end- but only if math anxious parents report providing frequent help with math homework.”   The development of early math anxieties in children as young as 6 can affect their self-confidence, school performance, and math achievement.  It also underlines how sensitive children are and how easily they pick up on parental attitudes and anxiety and internalize them. It further illustrates that even with well-meaning parents their negative attitudes and anxieties can be transparent.

So what can parents do do develop a math positive environment?
  • Be honest about your feelings about math and accept if you have any math anxieties.  Be aware of your negative attitudes and feelings about math around your child, try to control them, avoid talking negative and “perpetuating any negative stereotypes about math, gender based or otherwise.”
  • Think about different situations involving math that make you anxious, from daily activities like splitting a check with a friend to calculating the tax on a purchase.
  • Talk about numbers and math ideas at home starting with the toddler age child
  • Look for ways to support math like math based games, books, and daily activities where you can introduce positive math attitudes
  • Parents need to not let their math anxiety be evident when helping with homework.  If parents can not keep their anxiety to themselves, it is best to give the job to someone else, or seek the help of a tutor.
  • Become more comfortable with the subject matter by attending classes, such as “How to Learn Math: For Teachers and Parents”,
  • Contact your child’s teacher and familiarize yourself with the math curriculum so that parents can be prepared for what their child will be learning.
  • Accept that math can be a difficult skill to learn and can be “very challenging and make people nervous.”  It is important to say that to your child as well as encourage them to work hard.  Let them know that with your help, they will figure it out.
  • If the parent can not figure out a math problem do not avoid it. Rather see this as and opportunity to model constructive behavior and help your child plan questions to ask their teacher.  It is important to follow up with your child.

By: Dale Markowitz, LCSW