Your Math Anxiety Is Discouraging Your Daughter From Becoming An Algebra Queen

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girls and mathThe fascinating and complex relationship between parents’ attitudes towards math and the gender disparity in mathematical performance in children continues to have scientists honing in on one area of interest: gender stereotypes. It would appear that when mothers are presenting mathematical concepts to their sons, and not their daughters, even teachers are susceptible to the notion that girls can’t tackle numbers like the boys — even when their tests scores prove otherwise. Recent research should have parents reassessing those harmful stereotypes one more time though as mothers can reportedly “transmit” their math anxieties to their little girls.

Time reports that Elizabeth Gunderson, a researcher at the University of Chicago, examined “adult-to-child transmission” surrounding  learning behaviors. Not surprisingly, little girls like to emulate their mother’s behavior. So if it’s been established that it’s OK for mommy to hate math because she didn’t master the subject, little girls can grow up discerning that they’re not expected to excel in this subject either:

Parents’ “own personal feelings about math are likely to influence the messages they convey about math to their children,” Gunderson notes—and kids will readily recognize if these feelings are negative. Becoming aware of our anxiety is the first step toward stopping such transmission in its tracks.

Simple anxieties about mathematics apparently aren’t what solely influence girls’ confidence. According to Gunderson, mothers’ own proclaimed defeat at math, bookended with the belief that their lack of comprehension is innate, is also detrimental:

…parents may influence their offspring’s attitudes in two more subtle ways: through their own anxiety, and through their own belief that abilities are fixed and can’t be improved (expressed in commonly-heard comments like “I’ve never been good at science,” and “I can’t do math to save my life”).

Because previous research has indicated that children are likely to mirror the attitudes of their same-sex parent, mothers behind mindful of their “I can’t do math” diatribes could be in the best interest of little girls everywhere.

(photo: Darrin Henry/ Shutterstock)