Square Root of Kids’ Math Anxiety: Their Parents’ Help

Jan Hoffman in The New York Times:

MATH-tmagArticleA common impairment with lifelong consequences turns out to be highly contagious between parent and child, a new study shows. The impairment? Math anxiety. Means of transmission? Homework help. Children of highly math-anxious parents learned less math and were more likely to develop math anxiety themselves, but only when their parents provided frequent help on math homework, according to a study of first- and second-graders, published in Psychological Science. Researchers tested 438 children from 29 public and private schools in three Midwestern states for math ability as well as math anxiety, at the beginning and end of the school year. Their parents completed questionnaires about math anxiety, and about how often they helped their children with homework.

So much for good intentions. The more the math-anxious parents tried to work with their children, the worse their children did in math, slipping more than a third of a grade level behind their peers. And the children’s weaker math achievements increased their nascent math anxiety. “The parents are not out to sabotage their kids,” said Sian L. Beilock, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Chicago and the author of “Choke,” about anxiety and performance. “But we have to ensure their input is productive. They need to have an awareness of their own math anxiety and that what you say is important.” For example, she said, comforting a homework-distressed child, by saying, “ ‘I’m not a math person either, and that’s O.K.,’ is not a good message to convey.”

More here.