Don’t Give Your Daughter Math Anxiety
Don’t Pass Your Math Anxiety On To Your Daughter
Listen up, caregivers. Do NOT give your daughters math anxiety.
Written by Dr. Megan Allen, owner/operator of The Community Classroom
“I was never good at math.”
“I can’t do math, neither could my mom.”
“I just don’t like math.”
Ever heard one of these phrases?
My guess is that if you are a teacher, you’ve heard one.
If you have kids, you might have even said one.
But here’s the thing. Those small phrases, those seemingly innocent words, can cause our children’s math confidence to do a nosedive. They can cause math anxiety.
I was chatting with one of our Community Classroom tutors last week about what happens with our young girls and their feelings towards math (see this Edutopia article). A trend we see is that girls start falling out of love with math in second or third grade. Their confidence dips further by late elementary school. This moves towards dreading it in middle school. By high school, they have really checked out. Research shows that when this happens, girls are less likely to choose college majors that have to do with math. Then they are less likely to be in high-demand math professions.
This mirrors international research from the OECD, which shows that though young girls generally outperform boys on international assessments, they have less confidence. And girls generally continue to outperform boys in high school across the world except for 3 countries, and those are countries that have larger gender inequities (yes, the United States is one of the three).
Anecdotally I can say that a big part of my job as a fourth-grade teacher was to convince my students to like math. To give it a try. Especially the girls in my class, who had begun to lose their love for the subject. To ditch their math anxiety.
So let’s unpack this a bit.
What’s happening here with girls and math anxiety?
There are a couple of things that can impact how girls feel about math. Let’s start with the one related to the phrases at the top of this article.
The language that grownups use.
Our kids are listening. Always listening. Just the other day my two-year-old looked at me and said “that’s bunk.” For a split second, I thought I heard her wrong until she repeated it. Then I realized she was just parroting back what she had heard me say numerous times.
Think of that when you say things like “Ask your dad to help you with your math homework, I’m not great at math” or “I am going to let your dad figure out the tip for dinner, I’m bad with math.” They relate to you as their child—they see themselves in you. So if you are feeling a certain way, it trickles down to them. Especially if they hear it out loud enough times. And that can influence their own confidence with subjects such as math.
Who do your young girls see doing math around them? Who are their math teachers, the accountants in their lives, the engineers, the coders, the bankers (STEM teachers are still more likely than not to be white males)? Are those people women? Are they women of color? It’s important that our young girls see themselves in the people around them. That they have role models who are confident and strong in STEM subjects. I grew up the daughter of a high school science teacher, so my weekends were full of prepping science labs and engaging in fun science experiments with my mom. Having just that one role model in my life gave me added confidence as a math and science thinker.
Positive experiences with math.
In an informal poll with a few of my fellow educators, many of them had low math confidence as children because of one comment from a teacher or a parent. One negative experience that might have seemed meaningless to a grown-up can leave a lifelong impression on a young mind. So we must make sure our young girls have lots of positive experiences with math.
How can we make that happen? Make math fun and light, not forced. Math games are great, both indoor and outdoor. Any building game or activity helps develop a spatial sense that translates to mathematical thinking. Create a math walk in your neighborhood if you are feeling ambitious, or have fun with measuring ingredients while cooking. Point out the math in the real world such as figuring out sales prices, seeing shapes in the real world, or estimating. Download blueprints for a woodworking project full of measurement and precision. Check out Open Middle Problems or Three-Act Tasks. Keep track of points during your favorite sporting events. Talk probability! Create positive math experiences that create lifelong memories and a lasting impact on your child.
Watch a live news segment pertaining to this blog post that appeared on Western Massachusetts New Channel 22’s Mass Appeal here.