Parents’ math worries cause similar worries in their children, reports a study from the University of Chicago. This worry translates into poor math performance for some children. Notably, this “transfer” of worry only occurs if these parents frequently help with math homework.
“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,” explained Sian Beilock, senior author of the research paper.
Parents’ math anxieties also affected how much their children learned throughout the school year, which was significantly less than their peers were. Parents’ anxieties over math did not transfer to other subjects. Therefore, the reading performance of a student with math anxieties was unaffected.
The study involved over 400 first and second grade students along with their parents or guardians. Researchers assessed the students at the beginning and end of the school year. The parents and guardians completed questionnaires about their anxiety over math and their involvement in the students’ math homework.
An earlier study by this group of researchers investigated the effect of teachers’ math anxieties on their students. In that study, researchers assessed the math anxiety of 17 female teachers of first and second grade students. In additions, researchers assessed over 100 of these students. They found “teachers with high math anxiety seem to be specifically affecting girls’ math achievement—and doing so by influencing girls’ gender-related beliefs about who is good at math.”
The latest study, “Intergenerational Effects of Parents’ Math Anxiety on Children’s Math Achievement and Anxiety,” is in Psychological Science.