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Altering our Math Attitudes

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By Kristin Backert

I’ve never been good at math. It doesn’t make sense to me, and I would be lost without a calculator. And as the prophecy foretold, most of the math that I learned in school hasn’t made an appearance in my adult life.

While this type of thinking is fairly common among parents, did you know that it’s actually detrimental to your children’s feelings about math? A few weeks ago, NPR published an article explaining how a parent’s casual remarks to their children about how they themselves were never good at math “can send a signal to kids about whether they can succeed.” When parents discuss their own dislike of math, they create an excuse their children can latch onto to explain away their own troubles and hinder them from putting forth their best efforts. If their parents don’t understand the material, then how could they possibly understand it?

When our children are having a difficult time with something, we often tell them that everyone has something that they’re not good at. Some people are gifted at playing soccer, some are great at playing the piano, and some are math wizzes. Placing people into these sorts of categories sends a message to your children that there are some things they are simply incapable of succeeding at, and this reinforces a belief that there’s no point in trying at something that does not come naturally to them. It’s important to help your children realize that even if they’re struggling to understand something right now, that doesn’t mean they’ll never get it; they just need to utilize the resources around them and keep an open mind.

It may seem like a small thing, but children’s first role models are usually their parents, so they will often mimic their parents’ attitudes towards particular subjects. Even if you do have negative feelings about math, it’s crucial to project an upbeat attitude about the subject. If your children are struggling to grasp a particular mathematical concept, don’t agree that it’s too difficult to learn; instead, help them pinpoint which elements of the concept are confusing, and encourage them to meet with their teacher for help or to use an online resource like Khan Academy. Creating this positive environment will motivate your children to embrace math and learn that they are capable of accomplishing anything they set their minds to.

Erica MechlinskiAltering our Math Attitudes

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