Math Anxiety Can be Passed Down Through Generations

You might think it is good to have parents frequently help their children with their math homework, but a recent study showed that this is not always the case. A study published in Psychological Science found that math-anxious parents who helped their children with their homework on a regular basis contributed in the children becoming more anxious about math themselves.

The researchers looked at 438 first and second graders at 29 schools in the Midwest and tested the children on their math abilities at the beginning and end of the school year. They also surveyed the parents about their comfort with math and how often they help with their children’s homework.

These academics controlled for variables such as the teacher’s math knowledge and the parents’ education levels and found that these did not affect the results. They found a striking difference when the parents who were anxious about math frequently helped with homework. Surprisingly, their children learned significantly less math over the school year and concluded the year with more math anxiety. This trend was specific to math—it didn’t affect reading achievement.

This research is highly significant, since American students perform poorly in math compared to those of other countries. Also, high school students had the least interest in math of all of the STEM fields.

Past research suggests that children who fall behind in math don’t usually catch up, so this research is highly significant. People with a high level of math anxiety don’t have the motivation to succeed in math, because they feel it’s not useful.

The researchers suggested ways to help break the cycle of math anxiety, which included providing tools for parents with math anxiety to be able to help their children with their homework. Proposed solutions include providing video modules on effective math homework help or creating an Internet application with structured activities.