“Fear of failure” isn’t a new concept among kids and teenagers. Mounting academic pressures combined with a more dominant social media culture have exacerbated this “need for perfection” over recent years.
While it can be debilitating, contributing to bouts of anxiety or depression which can cause headaches, migraines and even seizures, there are solutions to help, says Dr. Lindsay Elton, one of Child Neurology Consultants of Austin’s board-certified pediatric neurologists.
As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers, so does the anxiety. (2020 has been a doozy of a year, to say the least.) There are new school settings to adjust to, or perhaps new schedules, new learning environments, a new activity or way of doing something, and new and constantly evolving expectations for kids to live up to. It’s not just the kids — parents, too, have made enormous adjustments.
Dr. Elton notes that this sentiment is extremely typical. “With many schools having returned in person, or are about to, and many parents weighing those choices, now is a good time to check in with your kiddos about how they are feeling about everything,” says Dr. Elton. “Ask them what they are most looking forward to but also listen to what they are afraid of.”
She ventures that even years before the pandemic, there has been a growing and unhealthy sense of pressure put on kids to perform and be perfect, whether in academics, athletics, or some other highly competitive activity.
Helping them to develop a strategy to overcome their fears and deal with failure–which is just a normal part of life–is one way Dr. Elton recommends that parents can help.
Making Failure Okay
Building a resilient child takes time. At the core is regular practice showing your child that it’s okay to fail. Here are four tips that might help you:
1.Show empathy for your child’s distress. Validating their feelings and letting them know that you understand their disappointment and frustration if they failed to accomplish something will show compassion and gain their trust. Reassure them that your love is unconditional (whether they have succeeded or not).
2. Be a model of failure. Tell them about a time that you did something not so great as a child or, even more recently, and share ways that you were able to learn from it and do better the next time. Set an example in how you handle your own day-to-day mishaps by not letting them get you down or derail you from the next task at hand.
3. Change your attitude about failing. Teaching them the important life skill of acceptance (if they have failed), and helping them make a plan for doing better the next time, is often far more valuable than whatever they were trying to do in the first place. The ability to pivot and remain flexible in life (as evidenced by the majority of 2020), along with knowing how to pick yourself up and forge ahead are powerful lessons for all children.
4. Make sure you set up successes. Too much failure will discourage children. To build confidence make sure there is a mixture of successes to bolster motivation. Then, as your child grows, they understand that life is full of successes and, well, sometimes failures.
Says, Dr. Elton, teaching kids how to learn to fail is a hard lesson that may be filled with tantrums or arguments. But, once learned, it’s a lesson that will guide them well in life.