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Get Anxious About Your Anxiety: You May Be Inducing Your Kids' Math Panic

Jan 10, 2008
It turns out you may be to blame for your kids' math anxiety issues. According to the 2001 report, What Are the Relationships Between Math Anxiety and Educational Levels In Parents and Math Achievement In Their Children? by LeAnn Dahmer of Tennessee State University, parental math anxiety is a contributing factor in their children's lower test scores.

The purpose of Dahmer's study was to "clarify the relationship between math anxiety and educational levels in parents and math achievement in their children." Of sixty-six participating families, information from eighty parents and eighty students was used to calculate the final results.

Among the tests completed by participating first, second, third, and fourth grade children were the TerraNova achievement test and the Math Anxiety Rating Scale (MARS). A negative correlation was found between math anxiety and evaluative scores. Parents' anxiety was also linked with their children's anxiety. In other words, a child's anxiety about math negatively impacted his or her test scores, and that anxiety was influenced by parents' attitudes about the subject.

This situation is not unique to America, however. CBCNews revealed earlier this year that math anxiety amongst Vancouver high school students and their parents was on the rise. Canadian Parent Advisory Councils are reporting the number of math tutors and teens needing math help is increasing substantially.

"There seems to be an issue of kids who are simply not getting the math," said Julianne Doctor of the Vancouver PAC. He continued by stating math marks are often the unjust "gate keepers" to universities, barring or admitting students based on grades from a subject in which the student may or may not have any future interest. While math anxiety may be on the rise in North America, grades are not - and when grades go down, so do students' chances of being admitted to universities of choice.

So what's a parent to do? The mounting data just seems to pressure us more, to blame us more. Most of us are just doing the best we can. How often do we look at our kids' math homework with dread, knowing full well we won't have the first idea what to do with it? Are we supposed to cover up our deep-seeded hostility towards a subject that probably did us wrong, too? Do we smile and pretend to be in love with material of which a lot of us are glad to have seen the last pages? Well, no. But we needn't be so negative about it, either.

"...Don't complain about math in front of your kids," says Marilyn Burns, former teacher and author of the "Hello Math Reader" series published by Scholastic, Inc. Burns blames parents for many of her former students' negative perceptions of the subject. "Fear of math is inherited."

Some read-aloud book series were created with the inspiring (albeit common sense) notion that reading about math from an early age is just as important as educating children on any other subject. The books are punctuated with concluding activities, and their texts follow curriculum guidelines from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, which include problem-solving strategies and "number sense versus paper-and-pencil drills." The originators want families to understand and appreciate the importance of math, not just to trudge through the homework.

Carolyn, a recent high school graduate, agrees. "I hated math," she said. "I hated the idea that I had to take it for as long as I did; I hated the idea colleges require it. I mean, really, how often in my life am I going to need to remember what sign and cosign are?" But, as I got older, I realized my attitude towards it was just making it worse...My dad hated math, too. Maybe that's why. He would always say, "Don't worry, honey. Just get through the classes, make your grades, and you'll never have to bother with it again." It made me feel good when I was younger, because I felt like someone understood me, you know? But maybe that wasn't such a good thing to tell me."

The worst thing parents can do is be anxious about their own anxiety and then twice as anxious about the anxiety they may be transferring to their children. That, in itself, sounds like a math word problem gone wrong. ("By what factor would a parent's anxiety increase if Child A's panic attacks exponentialize by three and Child B...?") Look, it's not nearly as complicated as the dreaded subject we're all analyzing to the "Nth" degree: just stop dreading it!

Try changing your own attitudes about math, first. See if you can find something interesting, challenging - dare I say, even fun - about those fractions, so your kids can, too. If you can, then maybe, just maybe, we won't have to recondition the next generation.
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Math Made Easy provides Math help for Algebra help, Geometry help, math homework help using math online tutorial services and math tutorial cd so you can watch your math scores soar.
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