Easing Kids Past Their Fear of Failure

Taken to the extreme, fear of failure can lead to a debilitating phobia called atychiphobia. Phobias generally originate from a combination of heredity, brain chemistry and life-experience. As parents we only have some control over the life-experience part, and that is mostly early in the child’s life. If you find that you are raising a child with a predisposition toward a fear of failure, there are many tools you can use to help your child break free of this trait. A simple fear of failure in a child can lead to procrastination, anxiety, low self-esteem and perfectionism as an adult.

Robert Kelsey, author of What’s Stopping You? Why Smart People Don’t Always Reach Their Potential and How You Can, sites several experiments with kids that show how fear of failure can impact decisions.

“In one experiment the children played a game of hoop-the-peg, with greater rewards offered for greater distances. The “need for achievement” kids stood a challenging but realistic distance from the peg — adding concentration if they failed. Those with fear of failure, meanwhile, stood either right on top of the peg or so far back that failure was almost certain. Of course, those choosing the impossible distance effectively disguised their fear of failure, not least because everyone failed at such a distance. Yet that was the better response. Many of the fear of failure kids became disruptive — intonating that they didn’t care for the game with some even trying to halt the entire process.”

Parenting: Fear of Failure Revisited, by Jim Taylor, Ph.D., talks about the nature of risk in failure: “One of the most destructive aspects of fear of total failure is that children are afraid to take risks. By definition, the more risks that children take, the greater the likelihood of failure. Yet risk is essential for achieving total success.

Risk means children getting out of their comfort zones, pushing themselves a bit beyond what they thought was possible, and, most basically, risking the possibility of failure. Without risk, there can be little growth or progress, children are perpetually stuck in one place, and they can never realize total success.

Unfortunately, another paradox about fear of total failure is that the only way to be truly successful is to take risks. So, children with a fear of total failure play it safe and avoid failure-that’s a relief!-but they also experience the frustration of unfulfilled promise and miss the exhilaration of having “left it all out on the field.”

Read more: Examiner


Back to top