Math anxiety bothers parents as much as students

Math anxiety bothers parents as much as students

(NPN) - Parents with the best intentions of helping their children with math homework could end up hurting their performance.

Agnes Palmer is a working mom, but when it comes to her daughter's fourth-grade math homework, she frequently finds herself at a loss.

"I feel, as a parent, inadequate when I can't help her with her homework," Palmer said. "I get stressed out. She gets stressed out."

This kind of math anxiety is very common and even socially acceptable, according to Cian Beilock, psychology professor at the University of Chicago and author of the book "Choke." However, she said that attitude can be harmful to kids.

"You don't hear intelligent people walking around bragging that they're not good readers, but often, people talk about not being a numbers person," Beilock said. "Telling them that it's OK to be bad at math, or there are people who are good at math and people that aren't - we're sending messages about their ability to succeed."

One study showed the more often parents anxious about math tried to help their kids with math homework, the worse their children performed. It also led to the parents' own math anxieties increasing.

"A parent's own fear or attitude about math can be transferred to their kids," Beilock said. "Not only in terms of how those kids feel about math themselves, but it can actually affect kids' learning across the school year."

Megan Roberts, executive director of Math for America, said the right attitude is the key to creating a more math-positive environment at home. Parents should focus on the process of getting answers.

"Things we should stay away from are phrases like, 'I was terrible at mathematics. It's OK if you are, too,'" Roberts said. "Tell me about how you solved this problem. Tell me what you were thinking when you worked on this number sense problem."

Roberts said parents should always be able to turn to their children's school for help, and don't leave math interactions for just homework. Try to incorporate it in everyday life.

"How much things cost, how tall things are, how things get bigger and smaller," Roberts said. "And as you get older, kids start to be curious about math concepts innately if they've sort of been thinking of them as a way of life."

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