Fear of Failure – Too Scared To Try

By Chrizelle Prinsloo

Children who suffer from fear of failure experience debilitating anxiety before writing an exam, taking part in sport or performing a recital. A moderate level of anxiety before such events is normal and can be expected before an exam or a solo performance. However, their fear of failure could lead to them not being able to reach their full potential, to take risks or to be successful.

This takes place when a child assesses a situation and determines whether they think they are able to do it or not, without necessarily trying first. If they do not feel that they can do it well enough according to their own standards, they would often refuse to take part.

Fear of failure is seen in children of all ages. Initially, the fear of failure could present itself when a child is too scared to take risks, in the child who chooses to play in the sandpit near his or her parents when the other children are playing on the jungle gym on the opposite side of the playground.

Later, it could seem that the child is constantly worried and needs reassurance all the time. Some children will constantly ask their teacher if their classwork is correct, even though they have been given prompts, reminders or checklists to check their own understanding.

Older children might be overcome by the fear of not getting good marks to the extent where they spend too much time worrying about a possibly incorrect answer in an exam. They would fret about one particular sum in their Maths exam and not carry on to the other sums on the exam paper. This could lead to an incomplete exam and losing marks on sums they could have mastered.

In studies done on the fear of failure, a link was found between the overwhelming fear of making a mistake and not being perfect and a child’s relationship with their biological parents. Children are often subconsciously scared of disappointing their parents. They also mirror their parents’ anxiety.

However, dear parents, fear not! You can help your child to overcome this fear by normalising mistakes.

Emphasize their effort over their ability.

Encourage them to see each “failure” as an opportunity to learn and improve.

Create opportunities where they can try new things just for fun where success is not required.

Teach your child to have self-compassion when they fail by not allowing negative self-talk to take over their vocabulary.

Let them see the bigger scheme of things by asking themselves whether this failure would still be relevant in a few years.

Remind your child that fear was once a scary monster that lived under his bed until he conquered the fear and the monster turned out to be his school shoe.

Chrizelle Prinsloo is the owner of Kip McGrath Education Centres, Walmer. She has a background in psychology and has taught in mainstream and special-needs schools both locally and abroad. Chrizelle is passionate about helping children gain confidence in their own abilities and about finding different ways to help them learn.

Contact Chrizelle on 081 707 9822 for a FREE assessment.