Teaching Kids To Not Fear Failure

Failing can be a good thing.

I recently had a coaching conversation with a colleague. The night before, they had delivered a presentation that did not go as rehearsed.

They were mortified. But I was impressed with how they owned their “failure” and identified how they would’ve done it differently.

Fear of failure is natural. It’s certainly embedded in us as children and in today’s perfection obsessed world.

I grew up in a culture where failing is frowned upon. If I brought home a test score of 90%, I’d be asked where the other 10% was.

One of the best lessons I learned in adulthood is that failing can be a good thing and be one of life’s best teachers.

It is these moments that allow us the biggest growth and maturity.

Well, the good news for parents of special needs kids is that you will get plenty of opportunities to fail, almost on a daily basis.

We enjoyed a walk this weekend by the water.

Potty training that takes years. Super prepared plans for virtual schooling that go out the window. Outbursts in public that make you feel so judged by others.

But it is through these moments that I gain perspective, gratitude, resilience and even a sense of humour – sometimes at the expense of my ego and sanity.

Children with T’s prognosis – at-risk fetal alcohol syndrome – are often described as anxious.

We can see some of this anxiousness in T, including when it comes to schooling.

His Child and Youth Worker commented that he is often reluctant to participate during group activities, like circle time.

I see this very clearly during virtual learning, when I encourage him to put his hand up to share an answer he clearly knows, but he refuses.

We also see this when it comes to learning to read. When we try to practice his sight words or reading simple level books, he is very reluctant to sound out a word.

When I ask him to guess, he gets upset and frustrated and asks me just to say the word for him.

His CYW theorizes it has to do with his confidence and I tend to agree. I think he’s afraid of getting something wrong in front of others.

When he’s playing one of his online games, he gets very upset when he loses.

It’s almost hilarious how upset he gets to the point of calling the game all kind of names and vowing never to play it again.

Video games actually provide a wonderful metaphor about how failure is not final. You get to try again and through failing, you learn what not to do next time.

Just like we’re working on helping T process his emotions, we’re trying to teach him it’s ok when things don’t go as planned.

Water and playing in sand, two things that T enjoys and that bring him great calm.

The hubby and I try to remind T it is important to try – and if he doesn’t get it right or win, it is no big deal. Just try again. But not trying is not an option in our family and in life.

T’s CYW is also trying to teach T about perseverance.

This week, they watched an online read aloud story together called Jabari Jumps, which tells the story of a boy who overcame his fear of heights to jump off a diving board.

Overcoming the fear of failing is a skill that takes a significant amount of time to learn. I’m 40 and still struggle with this on some days.

T is not often lacking in confidence but he does get anxious about trying something if he thinks he might not do well in it, especially if it’s in front of others.

And so, it’s something we’re gonna go work on together with him – to reinforce and to remind him that failing is not fatal. You can recover and will bounce back from most failures.

20 thoughts on “Teaching Kids To Not Fear Failure

  1. I love that you are working to help T with this. So much of our self concept comes from these places and knowing it is ok not to be perfect, is such a valuable part of learning.

    1. Thanks LaDonna! It is very hard with him because you can definitely sense the hesitation to participate in class due to fear of looking wrong or stupid. But it’s a work in progress and we will work on it. I’m always mindful of the “inner dialogue” each of us have inside of us and I know that’s nurtured and influenced at such a young age. I hope he’ll have a good inner dialogue when he gets older. 🤞🏻

      Hope you are well and nice to hear from you!

  2. Inspiring motivation my friend. I agree, every word. Failure is a result that we should take positively to try another approach to succeed and be better. It is also a humbling reminder that no matter how much we prepare, things may not result the way we want it. Overall, if we see it in a learning perspective, it should just challenge us more to persistently try. It will only make us stronger, fearless. It’s life preparing us for what is ahead and be ready. Take care and regards to your family.

    1. Thank you. This was a very comforting message to read after a long and trying day! 😊 I agree, when things go wrong, it can always feel so draining and deflating. But take a deep breath… or go to bed. And wake up to a new day and a new start… with new wisdom and strength.

      Enjoy the rest of your week. Almost the weekend!

  3. I couldn’t agree more about how failing can be a good thing and is often the best way to learn. It also helps to have someone in your corner rooting for you. The only way you can tell if you like (or don’t like) something is by trying. And that can be scary to try something new or different, but it can also be fun.

    1. Thanks L! Hiking a new path is a good metaphor for perseverance too. 😊 Enjoy the rest of your day. Hope the sun comes out soon!

    1. Thanks Diane. It’s very hard for sure. Yesterday, for example, was a super frustrating day of virtual schooling. Sigh. Haha. But every day is a new and fresh start!

  4. I can relate to this as I see it a lot with D. He is also afraid to share or participate in front of others in case he gets the answer wrong and risks embarrassment. He gets upset at losing video games, or any games because if he loses he self identifies as a loser. I agree though that it is important to learn to take the risks and failure is okay. It is definitely a harder lesson to learn for some kiddos!

    1. Thanks Robyn. Yes, it is incredibly hard and frustrating to try to impart this lesson on T and I can only imagine the frustrations you experience with D in some moments. But it’s a good fight to have and to persevere on. 🙂

      Enjoy the rest of your week!

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