One Simple Way to Make Your Kids Better at Math

It actually starts with you.

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Photo by CherriesJD / Getty Images

If math has never been your subject, your kids might just follow in your footsteps— math anxiety could be contagious, according to a new study published in the journal Psychological Science. In fact, parents’ attitudes about the subject can affect their children’s math achievement.

For the study, researchers from the University of Chicago assessed 438 first- and second-graders at the beginning and the end of the school year on their math achievement and attitudes. Their primary caregivers also took part in the study, completing a questionnaire about their math anxiety and homework help habits.

They found that children who had math-insecure parents helping them with homework learned less math in school. Apprehension about math seemed to rub off from parent to child, too.

But the findings only applied if the child received frequent homework help from their parent. So if your math-anxiety has led you to take a hands-off approach in that subject area, you might be helping more than you’re hurting—at least for now. Ultimately, though, the researchers think the best option for all families is to increase tools that will confidently equip parents for homework time.

"Although it is possible that there is a genetic component to math anxiety," the researchers wrote, according to a statement, "the fact that parents' math anxiety negatively affected children only when they frequently helped them with math homework points to the need for interventions focused on both decreasing parents' math anxiety and scaffolding their skills in homework help."