May 20, 2018
No subject is quite as polarizing as math. At a young age, students label themselves as “math-people” or “not-math-people” -- an attitude and belief that can affect willingness to progress. Often, this negativity can be thanks to parents who grew up with a vendetta against math themselves.
Parents that face some level of math-anxiety in their kids are sometimes math anxious themselves, and could be passing the disdain for numbers, formulas, and calculations down to their children.
While math can be perceived as a “school subject,” meaning teachers are solely responsible for introducing and teaching it to students, it’s important that children are exposed to a math-positive environment at home from a young age.
Math Confidence and Early Learning
Believing that success in math is innate and that “you either have it or you don’t,” is particularly harmful to students. Of 400 teachers surveyed, 68% said that a lack of confidence is the biggest blocker to a student’s success.
Confidence in math begins with a strong skill set before entering school. Incorporating math into everyday activities can show students the relevancy of what they’re learning, which 80% of teachers say will help increase interest and understanding throughout school. Math skills prior to entering school have also been shown to be the greatest predictor to future math-class success, making it key in building confidence.
Setbacks From Math Anxious Parents
Because parents with math-anxiety may stray from working through the subject with their children, those students are likely to be at a disadvantage before ever beginning school. Poor math skills before entering school lead to poor math performance throughout school, which only increases math-anxiety in students.
Once a student acquires a level of math-anxiety, parents that foster negativity towards the subject and attempt to intervene may only make matters worse.
A study of first and second graders found that when math-anxious parents attempted to help with math homework, their children performed even worse, falling over a third of a grade level. While setbacks can be due to general misunderstanding of the topic (like the new methods of Common Core), parents’ attitudes are more likely to be the culprit.
Negative interactions with a child’s homework, whether that be annoyed facial expressions, frustrated comments, or even “comforting” antidotes such as “I wasn’t great at math either,” all give students reason to believe that it’s okay to dislike math, provide them with no encouragement to improve, and ultimately increase their math-anxiety.
The Need for Outside Help
While parents may have good intentions, there might come a time that outside intervention is needed to help students gain the skills and confidence they need to succeed in math.
Tutors can help students pinpoint exactly what is contributing to their math anxiety and work from there. Some students may struggle with specific concepts, others might find difficulty in understanding vs. memorizing formulas, and some may just be plagued by repeated failures and need to be exposed to success to boost their confidence.
Some students may also feel pressured to hide their struggles when surrounded by their peers during class, making private tutoring sessions the perfect opportunity for students to freely ask and clarify their questions without fear of judgement.
And what about their parents? Tutors may also be able to give parents tips as well, such as how to better approach the subject with their children and reduce their own math-anxiety in the meantime.
Just like any subject, students need support when it comes to succeeding in math. Parents that find themselves projecting their own math-anxiety should make sure to seek additional help, giving their child the greatest chance at reaching their full potential.