Don’t Pass Your Math Anxiety to Your Child

By Joanne Helperin

As parents, we don’t just pass our genes and our culture to our children—we also pass down our attitudes. Unfortunately, math anxiety is easily passed down to the next generation, starting as early as first grade. Communicating your unease with math may not only increase your child’s math anxiety—it may also lower their math achievement and their confidence.

The most important thing you can do to support your child’s success is to have a positive attitude toward math and to engage your child with enjoyable math activities. Here are some “Dos and Don’ts” that can keep you from perpetuating the “math anxiety cycle.”


  • Math with your child every day. Just as you read with your child, it’s equally important to math with your child in everyday activities. There are so many fun ways to do this: Play games such as chess, Connect Four, 4-Way Countdown and Monopoly. Buy or borrow one of the many books that involve mathematical thinking. While your child is playing or reading with you, they’re doing math!
  • Let your child see how you use math in everyday life. They can work with you to calculate change at the store, estimate the number of supplies needed for an art project, or guess how long it will take to drive somewhere. It’s all math!
  • Be patient when helping with homework. This may sound obvious, but it takes a consistent, conscious effort, especially when your child may easily become distracted.
  • Foster a “growth mindset.” If your child believes that they can become smarter, they will understand that their own efforts lead to greater understanding and math achievement. Encourage your child to tackle math challenges and pursue different paths to solve a problem. Mistakes made along the way are part of the learning process!
  • Urge your child to develop a positive relationship with their math teacher. Many children are intimidated by authority figures, but once they understand that their teacher truly wants to help them as an individual, they can relax, which is a requirement for effective learning.
  • Recognize that math anxiety often stems from weak foundational math skills. Support them in building up their math foundation to where it needs to be. Children often need to relearn or reinforce previous concepts before they can move forward.
  • Encourage them to seek other sources of math support sooner, rather than later. This is especially important if doing homework with them is putting too much tension on your relationship.


  • Say that you’re “bad” at math or aren’t “a math person.” Being successful at math isn’t about genetics. The right support and consistent effort will lead to success at math.
  • Blame yourself, especially if it has been a long time since you’ve actively practiced math. Math books sometimes differ in their approach to a subject. If looking at your child’s math book confuses you, it’s perfectly understandable.
  • Question the teacher’s methodology or motives in front of your child. The methodology your child’s teacher uses to teach math may be dissimilar to what you experienced as a student. The teacher may want your child to show their work in a distinctly different way than you are accustomed to.
  • Emphasize speed or memorization. Rote memorization and quick calculation does not mean your child understands the fundamentals of how math works. For example, let’s say your child can easily tell you what 12 x 12 is (144). Can they also tell you, using mental math only, what 12 x 13 is? What 12 x 14 is? If they are taught math only through memorization, they would likely reach for pencil and paper. If they are numerically fluent, they will understand that they only need to add 12 to 144 to get the first answer and add another 12 to get the second answer. A solid math foundation is built upon number sense and numerical fluency, not speed or memorization.

Remember, other than your child’s teacher, parents are the biggest influencers on your child’s attitude toward math. If you help your child to embrace math as a tool that they use every day, all the time, it will cease to be anxiety-producing and become much more fun. Don’t be surprised if both of you find that you enjoy learning and using math together!

Want more on this subject? Check out our article on Helping Your Child with Today’s Math.

Joanne Helperin is the Marketing Communications Manager for Mathnasium Learning Centers. Mathnasium is a proud national sponsor of National PTA. 

National PTA does not endorse any commercial product, entity or service.

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