Does a parent’s anxiety about maths negatively affect their child’s maths achievement?

A maths app may help eliminate the negative association between parents’ maths anxiety and children’s maths achievement in early elementary (primary) school, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

The researchers tracked the maths achievement of 587 pupils from 40 classrooms in the Chicago area from first to third grade (Year 2 to 4). In the first grade, pupils and their families were randomly assigned tablets loaded with either a maths app or a similar reading app.

Parents were also given a questionnaire to complete in order to assess a variety of attitudes and behaviours related to maths and reading. Maths anxiety was measured using the Mathematical Anxiety Rating Scale. At the end of the first grade, parents were given a second survey to complete. Children’s maths achievement was measured using the applied problems subset of a nationally-standardised test.

By the end of third grade (Year 4), children of maths-anxious parents who were in the reading app control group had learned less maths than children of parents with no maths anxiety; learning the equivalent of approximately five fewer months of maths. However, this was not the case for children in the maths app intervention group, and children with maths-anxious parents showed the same maths progress as pupils with parents who had no maths anxiety.

These results suggest that parents’ maths anxiety is negatively associated with children’s maths achievement in early elementary school, and that the decreased negative association observed in the intervention group is due in part to a change in parents’ attitudes. The researchers conclude that when families used the app together, parents’ attitudes toward maths changed and they were able to disassociate their own maths anxiety from their children’s ability in maths.

Source: Disassociating the relation between parents’ math anxiety and children’s math achievement: Long-term effects of a math app intervention (December 2018), Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol 147(12)