Throughout most of the school year, we worry about passing along the flu, stomach bugs, and other yucky conditions to our children (and vice versa). Illnesses aren’t the only thing you can share with your child due to close proximity, you could be passing along something equally as dangerous to your child. The way you think about math, or your mindset around math. Overcoming your math anxiety is an important part of parenting as it spills over into other aspects of your child’s life.
If there was an award for the most hated subject in America, math would probably win year after year. If you get shivers down your spine when your child brings home math homework, you’re definitely not alone. If you consider yourself “not a math person” or often express how much you hate math, you could be passing your mindset on to your child. This, in turn, can cause your student to experience a negative mindset around math performance in the classroom and a sense of fear and anxiety whenever it’s time to pull out the arithmetic.
Why Your Mindset Around Math Matters
In math, like in sports, mindset can be half the battle. Even if you’re the shortest and worst player on the basketball team, if you have a good mindset and enjoy the process of playing the game, you’re likely to keep at it. When a student has a positive and growth centered mindset around math, they’re more likely to stick with difficult problems and enjoy their math work.
A student with an unhealthy mindset around math may believe their math ability is fixed. They might buy into the idea that there are “math people” and “non-math people” in the world. This student may struggle to stay motivated when their math work becomes challenging and is often afraid of making mistakes. This can create decreased performance in the classroom which could lead to a vicious cycle of math anxiety.
A student with a healthy mindset around math believes they are capable of learning and growing in the subject. They understand that they may make mistakes, but that working through these mistakes results in learning and growth. They see themselves positively as a math learner and are willing to try challenging problems and concepts in order to strengthen their abilities (and may even find challenging problems enjoyable).
How You Pass on Your Math Mindset
It’s probably not news to you that young minds are picking up on everything. Because of this, adults can pass on their mindsets through what they say and do when it comes to math. Whether interacting with math in the real world or reviewing math homework, your child will mimic the way they see you react and talk when the subject is brought up. A parent that consistently emphasizes that they “aren’t a math person” or blames their child’s poor performance on an inherited difficulty with the subject will be more likely to pass on this negative mindset to their child—creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.
Why Overcoming Your Math Anxiety is Important
The good thing about preventing your child from developing a negative math mindset is that you don’t actually have to change yours. The best first step is to change your language regarding the subject when your child is around. Try to become more aware of the way you feel and what you say when math is brought up in your house. When changing your language, start small. Choose one common phrase or attitude you would like to alter and go from there. Here are a few examples of changes you could make:
Instead of saying “you must have gotten my poor math skills” try saying…
- I know what it’s like to feel frustrated by math.
- Sometimes math topics need a little more practice. Why don’t we reach out to your teacher for some more help?
- It’s okay to feel frustrated. Why don’t we take a break and come back to this in a few minutes?
When you’re struggling to help your child with math homework, instead of saying “math isn’t my thing” consider saying…
- Wow! This is challenging! Why don’t we try to figure it out together?
- Let’s think about it as a puzzle that we need to figure out.
- Where do you think we could look to find a good explanation?
The Hard Part: Maintaining a Positive Mindset About Math
For adults who have troubled pasts with math, homework time can be particularly triggering. If you feel your heart begin to race when your child asks you for math help, there are a few things you can do to keep it a positive experience for everyone.
- Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know the answer. Your child can benefit from figuring out the problem together. Keep a list of trusted math sources where you can go to search for explanations on how to do problems (think khan academy, the math textbook website, youtube, etc.).
- If the math homework is becoming emotionally distressing for all involved, or might cause your child to cut into bedtime, don’t be afraid to send a note to the teacher explaining why the homework won’t get done tonight. Be sure to follow up to find out how the teacher wants your child to come to them for help.
- If emotions are escalating while your child does their work, consider using some relaxation techniques such as breathing, stretching, yoga, or dancing, to help everyone stay calm and focused.
Creating Good Memories Around Math
We focus on creating warm and fuzzy memories around reading from an early age, but we often neglect to do the same with the subject. Creating shared memories of doing math as a family can help your child enjoy math more and may even lead to them considering themselves a “math person.” Find small ways to involve the family in math on a regular basis. Things like math bedtime stories, math puzzles, and board games, and baking, are great ways to practice math skills while having fun family time.
Though math may never be your favorite subject, changing the language and mindset around math in your home can make a huge difference in your child’s math performance and outlook. These small shifts can be well worth it, and you may even find yourself enjoying math a little more than you did before.
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