Anxious parents can impede development of children’s maths skills

Children whose parents are anxious about maths are more likely to struggle with the subject at school, a new study has found.

The report from researchers at the University of Chicago, titled Intergenerational Effects of Parents’ Math Anxiety on Children’s Math Achievement and Anxiety, has found that parents with maths anxiety who frequently help their children with homework are more likely to pass on their unease with the subject and adversely affect their children’s academic achievement. 

The study, which took place over the course of a year and involved 438 children aged 6-8, found that parents who felt anxious about using maths but provided frequent help at home slowed their child’s progress due to being less confident in explaining mathematical concepts. It also found that anxious parents did not respond well when their children made a mistake or solved a problem in different way.

“We often don’t think about how important parents’ own attitudes are in determining their children’s academic achievement,” explained psychologist Dr Sian Beilock, one of the leaders of the study. ”But our work suggests that if a parent is walking around saying ‘Oh, I don’t like math’ or ‘This stuff makes me nervous,’ kids pick up on this messaging and it affects their success.”

National Numeracy welcomes the research findings, which add to mounting evidence on how low maths confidence can negatively affect both adults and children. Research shows parents’ positive attitudes to maths are a key part of children’s maths learning and National Numeracy offers support and advice to parents through the Parent Toolkit project. The National Numeracy Challenge is designed to help learners with low maths confidence overcome their fears and improve their abilities.

Read the full research