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Help Your Child Overcome the Fear of Failure

Photo credit: Ronnachai Palas /

Help Your Child Overcome the Fear of Failure

Failures can impart life skills

Published on 28 August, 2019

Photo credit: Ronnachai Palas /

“Just tell me if my answer is correct.”

My daughter was getting increasingly exasperated as she knew I wasn’t feeding her with the answers without ensuring that she understood the thought process to solve her Math questions. To her, mistakes are a sign of failure and she wanted to stay a mile away from them.

At the tender age of 10, she is already painfully aware of how negative being labelled as a failure can be. In school, non-performers have been put down by classmates, while praises were lavished on the top scorers.

In contrast, I’ve also heard of schools giving out medals to everyone for participating at Sport Day so no one feels excluded. Both extremes give failure a bad reputation; why do we make failure out to be a dead end?

While we want our children to be successful in their endeavours, the last thing we should do is shield them from every obstacle that come their way. If children are never taught how to deal with setbacks, how can they build the resilience to recover from them?

Very often, the fear of failure is worse than actual failure itself as it creates anxiety and hinders our children from trying new things. In order for children to overcome the fear of failure, we must equip them with a healthy perspective of failure.

1. Teach them that failures are building blocks to success

What if we taught our children that failures are essential to success? And that in order to succeed, failures have to be part of the equation.

We can take on the role of a coach. Instead of taking over their problems, help them to evaluate the problem, brainstorm possible solutions, and gently point out their blind spots or where they can improve.

With each experience of failure, our children will be less fearful of making mistakes. They will likely also learn to approach difficult situations from different angles, helping them to be more creative and persistent at problem-solving.

With each experience of failure, our children will be less fearful of making mistakes.

2. Emphasise on progress, not perfection

Children often get disheartened when they see that they are not doing as well as others, but we can help them to focus on the progress they have made. Recognise the efforts they have put in and assure them that if they continue trying, they will be able to get there.

Encourage them not to give up just because they have not achieved their goal yet. It just means that there is room for improvement and growth.

3. Temper our reactions towards failures

Acknowledge our child’s disappointment but also give them space to articulate their frustration and disappointment.

Instead of saying, “You just need to try harder next time,” we can be more empathetic in our response by saying, “I know you trained hard for the trials and I’m sorry you didn’t get into the team. Do you want to talk about it?”

Our reaction to the setbacks that our children experience shapes their mindset towards failures. If we are always looking for someone to blame, children may try to find an excuse when things don’t go as planned. By responding with more compassion, we are teaching them to take personal responsibility towards failure.

Growing their self-awareness will also put them in a better position to pick themselves up after a fall. If they were unprepared for their test, ask if they felt they had put in enough time and effort on their revision, and if not, what they can do next time. If they were overlooked for a leadership role, ask what areas they think they can work on for the next round of selection.

Acknowledge our child’s disappointment but also give them space to articulate their frustration and disappointment.

4. Emphasise that they are not defined by failures

For self-esteem to flourish, children need to know they are not defined by their success or failure. Similarly, we must recognise that our children’s success or failure do not define us as well.

While we may worry about our children failing at school, being overly caught up with grades can be suffocating and disempowering for children when they feel they are not measuring up.

As parents, we have to have a realistic view of our children’s abilities and set our expectations accordingly. By learning what motivates them, we can activate our children’s inner drive instead of making them do well to please us.

We can also be vulnerable and share our personal stories of disappointments we face at work. Insodoing, we are normalising failure and modelling to our kids so they can see how to cope with and overcome setbacks.

Failures can be painful but learning to change the conversations we have about failure will help reframe how our children perceive failure. With a more positive and growth-oriented mindset, they will be in a stronger position to overcome challenges in the future.

Think about:

  • How will you talk about failure with your child this coming week?

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