Math-Phobia: How Parent Attitudes Shape Student Beliefs

Updated: Apr 8

Math: The word strikes fear and anxiety in the hearts of many...

We as parents have the power to shape our children’s perception and approach to math, even if we are closet math-phobes ourselves.

By simply making numbers a playful activity we go a long way in shaping our children’s beliefs about math and their confidence. Much like the parent sneaking green vegetable puree into an unsuspecting child’s spaghetti sauce to get him to eat more nutritiously, there are sneaky (but loving) ways we can infuse our children’s days with more math, and they never need know of our secret fear and loathing of the subject.

Math is no different than any other subject. Many worry about teaching math at home, but is is most often the stress and anxiety about math and teaching it that is the problem, not math itself. More than any other subject, math curricula is essentially all the same. The pictures and styles may be different, but the concepts are not. What truly separates a good, high quality math curriculum from a bad one comes down to the presentation; or more specifically,


Instruction is what makes the abstract and challenging understandable. It makes the boring and tedious manageable. Without the instruction, kids often superficially move through the procedures while not fully appreciating what or why they are doing what they are doing. Most parents I have talked to want their children to excel in math, be comfortable in math, and even enjoy it. Despite what math curriculum peddlers say, their books and programs cannot achieve any of this alone. The support, guidance, and meaningful presentation of an instructor is what usually creates mathematicians, not boring old textbooks. For the math-a-phobes out there, knock it off! Shut up! Stop telling your kids that you “suck at math” or that “you aren’t any good at math.” Unless you want your child to feel the same way and resist math, then you need to stop now. If you do not feel comfortable teaching math, outsource it. Instead of hemorrhaging money on more math stuff, invest in a tutor, club, class, or program in your area.

Do not phone it in on an online option. Human interaction is key to understanding math.

Now some of the unschooling types are thinking, “I read online that my child will pick up math on his own. I do not need to teach him.” A few of the lucky ducks out there will be blessed with children who are naturally interested or strong in math. These kids will be intrinsically motivated to learn, and may not need much direct instruction. However, for the vast majority of us, our kids will need guidance and motivation to learn math.

Don’t Buy the Curricula Industry Kool-Aid. YOU ARE Your Child’s Best Teacher

It seems that a new and better curriculum, program, or philosophy is being touted as best everyday. Homeschooling is a huge task requiring great time and care. Be sure that your time and energy are spent wisely. Too many options, opinions, and marketing bombardment erodes our confidence as parents and teachers. Remember, you know your family best. You are your children’s best teacher. Pick your materials based on your family’s own values and goals, not the values and goals of others.

The Curricula WON’T Save You

Believe it or not, many parents believe that purchasing a popular curriculum is enough to teach their kids math. They feel that all they need to do is assign the pages, read the directions, and viola! their kids have learned math. They seem to think that teaching math at arms length and not getting too involved will insulate their kids from their own math insecurities. Not the case! Students in this situation are often simply memorizing procedures and the patterns of the problems in the textbooks. That is not learning. Other families will go a step further and use pre-packaged tutorials. While these tools have their benefits, they really should not be used as the sole math instructor. They cannot replace the value of human interaction.

No, Not Even Singapore Math Will Save You

The reason why curricula like Singapore Math has been so wildly popular and renowned has little to do with the curriculum itself. Yes, it is a great system that enhances great instruction, however I contend that the teachers presenting the math are what really make Singapore so good. That also goes for most every other curriculum. They are all essentially the same.

Instructors bring math to life. The good ones make it RELEVANT to the student which bring meaning to even the most abstract and challenging concepts. They instil the love of learning and the joy of the challenge.

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