Science Says Your Anxiety over Your Child’s Math Scores is Doing More Harm than Good

Science Says Your Anxiety over Your Child’s Math Scores is Doing More Harm than Good

With the recent trend of parents taking PSLE math workshops to help their children with their math homework and assignments, this comes as a surprise revelation to me.

If your child tends to be very anxious over math and breakout in cold sweat, you, the parent, may be just the reason.

 RELATED: 5 Ways to Lower Your Child’s Anxiety

The Study

Four hundred and thirty-eight 7-8 year-old students were assessed in math achievement and math anxiety at both the beginning and end of the school academic year. The team  the team also assessed reading achievement as a control variable  – which they found was not related to parents’ math anxiety.

Parents completed a questionnaire about their own nervousness and anxiety around math and how often they helped their children with math homework.

The researchers believed that the performances of the children depend on math attitudes of their parents than genetics.

Your Responses my Harm Your Children’s Self-Esteem

The interesting study, led by UChicago psychologists Sian Beilock and Susan Levine,  discovered that when parents provide frequent help on the child’s math homework, their anxiety rubs off onto their children and cause them to be extremely anxious over math as well! This hampers the learning rate of their children and they actually pick up fewer math skills as time goes by.

The study found that when parents offer to help their children, regardless of their knowledge, maths-anxious parents may be less effective in explaining math concepts to children, and may not respond well when children make a mistake or solve a problem in a novel way. They may flare up and yell at their children, especially when they seem to make careless mistakes.

RELATED: The Highly Sensitive Child: When Every Constructive Feedback Feels like a Personal Attack

Children, who intrinsically want to please their parents, tend to feel very stressed up over their parents’ reactions. This cause them to be less confident in their subject and creates anxiety if they perceive they will be making mistakes or do not know the subject matter well.

What does this Mean? 

It means that while parents do have a choice to attend Maths Parent Workshop, the outcomes of their children’s achievements lie with their ability to stay calm and respond calmly when they are helping their children with their homework or assignments. If the parents end up yelling or making black faces during the session, the knowledge of solving questions may come down to naught if the children are too stressed up to absorb the learning.

Rather, it is encouraged that parents might want to include math books, computer and traditional board games, or Internet apps that allow interactions of fun and positivity to generate positive feelings instead.

E. A. Maloney, G. Ramirez, E. A. Gunderson, S. C. Levine, S. L. Beilock. Intergenerational Effects of Parents’ Math Anxiety on Children’s Math Achievement and AnxietyPsychological Science, 2015; DOI: 10.1177/0956797615592630
Critical: When Perfectionism Paralyses Your Child

Critical: When Perfectionism Paralyses Your Child


Every parents hopes that their child strives to be the best that one can be. Yet when a gifted child takes a on a perfectionistic streak, association with suicide, eating disorders, substance abuse and depression becomes higher. How does one identify if perfectionism has become a problem?

What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionistic children or adults truly believe that their self-worth or self-esteem depends very much on their capabilities to produce something – rather than who they are. These children are usually bright and gifted children who are very used to producing good results and earning praises of others. Self-evaluation comes very naturally to them after the completion of any activity or event that they are expected to perform well in.

RELATED: How to Identify the Difference between a Bright and Gifted Child

The issue starts when their self-evaluation falls short of their expectations: Their self-evaluation believes that they have not done extremely well and this does not match the expectations they have of themselves.

Thus, they will start to believe that their products are more important than who they are and set extremely high standards for themselves to meet. Once they are unable to overcome an issue, this shakes their self-belief badly. They will withdraw and respond with tears and anger as this only fuel a hidden suspicion they have of themselves: they are not as good as they think they are and are really ‘worthless’.

Differences between Healthy Striving and Perfectionism

How do you know if your child is striving healthily? Your child will put in effort to strive for achievable goals. Emotionally, they will feel hopeful and are engaged in learning. They are energetic and enjoy learning. For a perfectionistic child, the same learning brings about fear of failure and fear of humiliation. Learning is forced and they don’t feel joy in learning anymore.

Issues with Perfectionism

Perfectionism is really a sense of control that child thinks he/she has over their lives. They truly believe if they let go, their grades will fall and everyone will finally see that they are not as great or worthy as others think they are. Hence, they will set higher goals and it will increase over time; they are never satisfied with their performance.

There are many factors that contribute to this cycle: spoken and unspoken expectations of parents and teachers, rivalry and even constant praises about their smarts contribute to “self-worth=great product” belief. Their ego  and pride are derived from these and any mistakes made represents a frightening sense of loss of self-control.

RELATED: Differences in Parenting Styles between Gifted and Non-gifted Children 

When your child focus so much on being perfect, this paralyses your child’s creativity by making them risk adverse to trying out new things. Your child may also waste too much energy worrying about trivial matters such as focusing on what others think about them instead.

How Can Parents Help? 

Your child  need to know that they can still succeed in life without being perfect as long as they treat themselves with compassion and there is no need to worry about how others look at them. In the next few posts, we will be looking at specific issues that occur with these children and how to overcome them.

5 Ways to Lower Your Child’s Anxiety

5 Ways to Lower Your Child’s Anxiety

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 10.27.35 pmIs your child always anxious and worried? Does he/she always seem to be worrying about something? Many times, these anxious children tend to be very responsible and tend to be perfectionists. They worry about the consequences and over trivial  things that they seem to forget to live in the present moment. This may ultimately lead to defiance as they are unable to take the stress. As a parent, what can you do to help them?

  1. Teach them how to meditate.  Most adults tend to chunk meditation and yoga together. Yet this method of slow and deep breathing would teach your child to  control their anxiety. In order to breathe deeply, ask them to take a deep breath very slowly and deep into their belly to a count of 5. Once filled, let your child breathe the air out to a count of 5 once more. You can show them Youtube videos which show how to do this diaphragmatic breathing.

  2. Explain the Fight-or-Flight Syndrome. You will be surprised at how quickly children pick things up and apply in their lives when taught.  Many children tend to react spontaneously out of fear or habits to situations, both familiar and unfamiliar. You can show them a picture of a tiger and ask about their likeliest response upon seeing one. This brings about a moment when you can ask them to predict what happens if they are to walk away calmly from the tiger instead. There are some Youtube videos which show how some African hunters walked calmly to a pack of lions to steal their food – frightening the lions instead!

  3. Banish Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTS). Do you have ANTS too? Many parents can be quite pessimistic and often have these thoughts in their heads whenever they encounter something they are not confident of. Unknowingly, they will use negative words to put themselves down. Who would be watching them? Yes! Their child! Sooner or later, their child would begin to have ANTS to put themselves too! Typical ANTS may be: “Nothing ever goes my way,” “I’m a loser because everyone else thinks I am,” or “I’m a failure.” The parent needs to model how to change these thoughts to positive ones by verbalising them such as  “If I keep practicing, I’ll get better,” or “Even if I make a mistake, I can learn and do better the next time,” constantly. Once the child believes in them, his/her  anxiety levels will be reduced.

  4. Hug your child. Yes, that’s right. Have you hug your child today? Research has shown that human contact tends to calm anxiety levels very efficiently. This creates a ‘safe’ zone where the child feels safe within. In fact, it is recommended that everyone should hug at least once a day to feel happier!

  5. Exercise.In fact, all he/she needs to do is to take a ten minute walk out in the park. It is no secret that exercise reduces the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol and stimulates the production of feel-good endorphins. It also leads to an increase in activity levels in the serotonergic system, which may help to decrease anxiety and improve mood. If your exercise has been moderate to intense, the increased body temperature would reduce the muscle tension, thereby affecting the experience of anxiety.