Fear of Failure

Joey wrote paragraphs and read all summer long but last week when school began, he refused to write anything for the teacher in his daily journal log.  When his mommy asked him why, he simply said “what if I don’t spell something right?”

Every kid wants to do well.

But if they are like Joey however, they can easily takes on a “minimalist” attitude toward effort when faced with new or challenging situations.  Joey does not fool his parents however.  While he does not set out to purposely fail, at times he winds up failing because he refuses to try.  Deep inside, Joey really wants to succeed but his fear of failure can still get the best of him.   At those times he puts on a nonchalant facade to cover up his fiercely competitive and emotional personality.

Joey prefers to think that he can somehow achieve effortless success.

Yesterday I took him and his sister Kate outside to teach them cartwheels.  Thinking he could do one without any previous practice, Joey wound up flat on his back and in tears.  He was done after one attempt and embarrassed that his younger sister’s repeated efforts were making her better at cartwheels than he was. Knowing the importance of Joey not giving up so easily, I found an online video demonstration of a kid performing a cartwheel.  He watched the 10 second demonstration over and over and over.  Doing so gave him enough instruction and confidence to try again. Afterwards, he excitedly went back out and this time he not only landed on his feet but actually was able to perform the steps of a cartwheel. And he was elated about his progress!

Kids like Joey can easily fall between the cracks and be given up on because they act like they don’t care.  They simply need a bit more coaching and support in the beginning to feel safe to try.   Once they get over their deep seated fear of failure, they become excited about learning and growing.

Helping Kids Get Over a Fear of Failure

  1. Redefine failure and mistakes merely to those times when nothing is learned; that failure only happens when they fail to try.
  2. Redefine success as improvement and growth.  True success is never effortless and it is ongoing!
  3. Focus on getting better and improvement more than on outcomes.  Don’t over react to mistakes.
  4. Focus on attitude more than performance;  that their effort is what pleases you most.
  5. Share with your kids times when you failed and what you did to improve.
  6. Don’t make excuses for your own mistakes and don’t allow them to make excuses.
  7. Remind yourself that your kids really don’t want to disappoint you.  Be careful not to set too lofty of expectations by telling them they are “brilliant” or “talented” or “the best” as they may see their need to maintain this image as more important than trying and possible failing to meet your expectations.

Next week:  specific statements to use with kids that will promote growth and effort.

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