This study shows that parents with math anxieties inadvertently make the situation worse for their kids.
Math-haters of the parenting world rejoice! According to this study, parents who struggled with math should take a step back and not assist with their kid’s homework. Isn’t that great news?
I was a terrible math student. I dreaded it, never got the hang of it and I received poor grades. My parents expected perfection from me, and the fact that all my other grades were solid didn’t satisfy them. They forced me to do extra work at home—whether that was for practice or punishment was always unclear to me. Whatever the reason, I’m positive it was a major contributing factor in my sustained hatred for the subject. I scraped by until I was no longer required to take math courses.
Sometime last year, when my almost-five-year-old daughter, Anna, first started school, I realized the countdown to math homework was officially on. Maybe math will come easily to her—I mean, math skills aren’t genetic, right? But if it turns out that she isn’t naturally inclined in the area and ends up struggling, I’ll have to find her a tutor, because the idea of learning complex math equations at this point in my life is just too daunting.
Plus, according to the study (conducted in 2015), I really shouldn’t be the one to help her out. Researchers at the University of Chicago discovered that parents who are anxious about math pass that anxiety onto their kids—unintentionally making them worse at math.
The study, published in Psychological Science, involved 438 grade one and two students from 29 public and private schools in three Midwestern states. They looked at math anxiety at the start and finish of the school year and even had parents fill out a questionnaire about how frequently they help their kids with homework. The conclusion: Parents with math anxieties inadvertently made the situation worse for their kids, as those students slipped more than a third of a grade level behind their peers by the end of the study.
I’ve had some time to think about this. At this point, Anna knows how many fingers and toes she has without having to count them. However, I really should get her used to numbers—without telling her about my own distaste for math. As this article cautions, revealing to your kid that you’re not good at math and hate the subject may lead your kid to adopt those same views. And I wouldn’t want that, so I’ll try to keep it to myself when we eventually get to the point where Anna brings home those math equations.
Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a five-year-old. She started off as a single-mom-by-choice and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.
This article was originally published online in August 2015.