Finally, highly-math-anxious parents may become flustered when their children’s teachers use novel strategies that parents themselves never learned.
We believe that being exposed to negative attitudes about math and confusing instruction from parents might cause children to lose confidence in their math abilities and to invest less effort into learning math, resulting in lower math achievement by the end of the year.
Couldn’t this just be genetics?
While I mentioned earlier that there is a genetic link between math anxiety of parents and their children, our research indicates that parents have more than just a genetic influence on their children’s math outcomes.
If genetics were the only factor at play, then we would have seen that parents with higher math anxiety would also have children displaying similar anxiety. They would also have lower math achievement as compared to their peers.
But that was not what we found.
Rather, it was specifically in the case of children whose highly-math-anxious parents helped them often with math homework that we saw this trickling down of parents’ math anxiety.
Thus, while genetics may be part of the equation, it is certainly not the entire story.
How can children be supported
This research highlights the need for researchers and educators to work together to develop more effective tools to help parents – especially those who are anxious – support their children’s math success.
These tools may come in the form of worksheets, apps, and games, or parent-teacher workshops aimed at teaching parents the new strategies that are being used in the classroom to teach math today.
Fortunately, there are a number of research-based strategies that can be very useful in helping children and parents deal with their math anxiety. My favorite strategy is a simple, inexpensive, and very effective tool called expressive writing.
To use this strategy, students simply have to write about their worries regarding an upcoming math test (for example by answering the question “Explain in detail how this upcoming math test makes you feel”) for about seven minutes before they take the test.
This straightforward act of writing actually causes students to perform better on the math test than what they would have performed had they not written at all.
While it is true that even the best-intentioned parents may contribute to their child’s anxiety and lower achievement, the good news is that simple strategies, like expressive writing, can go a long way in helping children combat the negative effects of math anxiety.
Success in math requires more than just ability. It is also about developing the right attitude.