A recent study from the University of Chicago has found that parents’ anxiety about math could be negatively impacting their children’s ability to learn math, at least when their parents try to help them with their homework.

Parents are often told to be involved in their children’s education, and they should be, but parents who are anxious about math can actually harm their children by passing that anxiety along to them. The study found that kids performed poorly in mathematics over the course of a school year if they had parents who both helped them with their homework, and expressed anxiety about the subject. These parents also tend to get upset when their children arrive at the answers to problems in novel ways, or make mistakes.

This study is the first to link parent’s math anxieties to their children’s success, but the same research team performed a study a few years ago that showed that teacher’s anxiety about math could also negatively impact students’ success.

438 first and second grade students were surveyed alongside their primary caregivers. They were surveyed and tested at both the beginning and the end of the school year. As a control, the same students and caregivers were also surveyed about reading anxiety, but the students’ success there was found to have no relation to their math anxiety.

So it seems that anxiety about math is limited to that subject, and it doesn’t bleed over into other subjects, which is good. The researchers point out that we can’t simply tell parents to get involved, but neither should we tell them not to be involved in their children’s education. Instead, they suggest that we need to develop systems to help parents help their children learn, which can build upon their own skills. Games or books might help parents and children interact with math without the anxiety of facing down a page full of math problems.

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