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Parent's Math Anxiety May Harm Children's Ability To Succeed In Subject

First Posted: Aug 10, 2015 11:32 PM EDT

New findings published in the journal Psychological Science show that parents may contribute to their child's math anxiety.

"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," said researcher and psychological scientist Sian Beilock of the University of Chicago, in a news release.

As previous studies have shown that when teachers are anxious about math, their students are less likely to learn the subject well during the school year, the current findings suggest an established link between parents' and children's math anxiety.

In this particular study, researchers analyzed data on over 430 first- and second-grade students and their primary caregivers. Researchers assessed the children based on math achievement and their anxiety in the subject at the beginning and end of the school year. Reading achievement was also assessed as part of the control, which researchers found was not related to parents' math anxiety. Lastly, parents were asked to complete a questionnaire about their own nervousness and anxiety regarding math and how often they were involved in the subject with their child via homework, etc.

The findings seemed to suggest that a child's success in math was based less on genetics and more on their parent's attitude involving the subject.

"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," the researchers concluded.

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