Research reveals a simple way to help your child get better maths marks

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New European research has found that encouraging children to talk positively to themselves could boost their maths performance.

Carried out by researchers at Utrecht University, the University of Applied Sciences Leiden and the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, along with the University of Southampton in the UK, the new study looked at 212 Dutch children in grades 4 to 6 (ages 9 to 13 years).

The children were first asked to report their beliefs about their competence, with the researchers pointing out that children who think poorly of themselves often underachieve in school.

Researchers pointed out that children who think poorly of themselves often underachieve in school

A few days later, they were asked to take the first half of a standardised maths test, and then immediately after, were randomly told to silently take part in either a self-talk focused on effort (for example "I will do my very best!"), a self-talk focused on ability ("I am very good at this!"), or no self-talk at all. They then completed the second half of the maths test.

The findings, published online in the journal Child Development, showed that the children who gave themselves a self-talk focused on effort showed an improvement in their performance on the second part of the test, compared to children in the self-talk group which focused on ability and the no self-talk group.

The benefits of self-talk focused on effort were also particularly strong among the children who already had negative beliefs about their competence.

However, no improvement was seen in the performance of children who engaged in self-talk focused on ability, regardless of their perception about their competence.

The researchers explained that they chose this age as negative perceptions of competence become more common in late childhood. Moreover, children with negative competence beliefs often achieve below their potential in school. This simple mental task could now help to boost their performance.

"Parents and teachers are often advised to encourage children to repeat positive self-statements at stressful times, such as when they're taking academic tests," notes lead author Sander Thomaes, "but until now, we didn't have a good idea of whether this helped children's achievement. We discovered that children with low self-confidence can improve their performance through self-talk focused on effort, a self-regulation strategy that children can do by themselves every day."

"Our study found that the maths performance of children with low self-confidence benefits when they tell themselves that they will make an effort," explains co-author Eddie Brummelman. "We did not find the same result among children with low self-confidence who spoke to themselves about ability. Self-talk about effort is the key."


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