University of Chicago researchers say kids learn less when a math-anxious parent frequently helps them with homework.

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A few years ago, researchers at the University of Chicago found evidence that female teachers who are anxious about math can dampen the math achievement of their female students.  Now, in a new study, they’ve discovered a similar pattern with parents.

When parents with math anxiety help their children with homework, the researchers say those their attitudes can get passed along and reduce how much math the kids learn over the course of a year — although only if the anxious parents provide frequent help with math homework.

The study, led by University of Chicago psychologists Sian Beilock and Susan Levine, included 438 first- and second-graders and their primary caregivers. The children were assessed in math achievement and anxiety at the beginning and end of the school year; the parents completed a questionnaire that gauged their own attitudes toward math and how often they help out with math homework.

Researchers do not believe the link is genetic.

“We often don’t think about how important parents’ own attitudes are in determining their children’s academic achievement. But our work suggests that if a parent is walking around saying ‘Oh, I don’t like math’ or ‘This stuff makes me nervous,’ kids pick up on this messaging and it affects their success,” Beilock said in a news release announcing the findings.

So what’s a math-adverse parent to do? Let their kids fend for themselves?

Not quite, the researchers say. They recommend empowering nervous parents with tools such as math books, games and web apps that would help them and their children interact with math in a positive way.