Helping Your Kids Overcome Fear of Failure

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Help fear of failureDr. Sherri Singer’s article from last week, Why Failure Is Not Always A Bad Thing For Kids, addresses the very important topic of learning and striving for success (meaning whatever you want to accomplish) and to keep going at it rather than giving up in the process. Dr. Singer’s article has a wealth of wisdom that may be overlooked by some readers because it was written from more of a logical, academic perspective rather than a personal and passionate one–which is why I’m revisiting her article and using my own personal experience to examine how we can cultivate a passion for learning and to instill more awareness of the value of lifelong learning in our teenagers.

Well, what happens when you try something you really want to succeed in and you don’t succeed? Do you give up? Do you keep doing the same thing over and over? Or do you keep at it, trying different approaches if needed?

Dr. Singer writes,

“A new study by French researchers found that children who were told learning can be difficult, and that failing is a natural part of the learning process, actually performed better on tests than kids not given such reassurances.

As a Psychologist who works with success and the benefits of failure every day, I believe there is no better way to take the punch out of failure and keep a kid going on work than to train them to fail with grace.”

I believe that children who get comfortable with failure being a natural part of the learning process not only perform better on tests, but also in any other part of life. Because let’s face it parents, how many things turned out right the first time we did them? When we baked our first cake did it come out perfect? Were we able to swim after our first lesson? So why is it that some kids just give up so soon?

Dr. Singer writes,

“The truth is that most of the kids I have met throughout the years didn’t have academic problems and didn’t have intelligence problems, although they presented as though they did, and their school reports said as much. Their main problem was that they did not know how to keep going once they did something wrong, so they would give it up, become frustrated and then try to do anything and everything else but the work.”

What makes some kids give up early, and what can we as parents do to take the sting out of failure so that our kids view it as just another stepping stone toward future success? Dr. Singer advises,

“After years of watching what fear of failure does to kids, I believe that practicing the process of how to fail with grace, taking the emotion out of it and getting right back to the work is the key to doing well.”

I believe that taking the emotion out of your response when your child does something that’s not what you would have liked to see is an important clue here. When I read Dr. Singer’s advice above it reminded me of an incident with my younger child, a time when I was able to gracefully navigate through my fear and respond by letting her know that this was about learning, not about what she had done. The following is my story:

When my younger daughter (Julianne) was two years old, she had done something that scared me a bit. It was the hot summer and she and my older daughter (who was 5 at the time) were on our way to the townhouse complex swimming pool. My older daughter and I were weighed down with towels and goggles and swimming noodles and other stuff and Julianne broke away to rush off to the pool.

When we got to the pool area, Julianne was not to be seen. She could have arrived at most only 30 seconds before we got there … but I looked around and she was nowhere in sight. I felt a little panic inside as I called her name, “Julianne! Julianne!” but there was no answer. I quickly scanned the pool and did not see her. Quickly I scanned all around the lawn area and the bushes and trees but she wasn’t there, either. Then I took a breath and stood looking straight at the pool. I connected with that deep place within me (the space around my heart) and I “pretended” to have the eye of an eagle. “Eagle eyes” is what I “heard” from the “voice” within; that’s the guidance I got from getting in touch with my inner Voice.

With my “eagle eyes” I carefully looked at the pool and this time, I saw a little hand sticking out of the water at the far end of the pool. And as I’m sprinting to her with racing heart what’s going through my head is, “Don’t transfer your fear of deep water into her.” This was my moment of truth; I knew it. I knew I had to act for her highest good and keep my emotions out of it.

So I pulled her hand out of the water and told her with calm voice, “You were trying to swim, weren’t you? Your sister knows how to swim because she went to swimming school and pretty soon you will get to go to swimming school too! But you don’t know how to swim yet and for now, you will have to wear your water wings.” I hug her and kiss her and delight in holding her but she’s trying to squirm out of my arms. She wants me to put the floaties on her arms so she can get back in the pool! And that’s when I knew I had done my job; I had taken the guidance and I had succeeded with my objective of keeping my fears out of the picture.

My older daughter had an incident where at 15, she had done something stupid that she was not proud of. To help her through the process, I explained to her that sometimes people need to personally experience some things in order to learn. There are natural consequences that we sometimes need to experience and feel. I made it be more about the learning process and about personal growth rather than harping on the error that she committed.

Given that we are here on this planet to learn, isn’t it a wonder that some people refuse to learn new things or give up so early? But we can change this. It is not impossible. We can be open to learning new things ourselves and we can teach the value of lifelong learning to our children–by being examples of lifelong learning ourselves.

Image Source: Woodleywonderworks Photostream


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