How to help children conquer the fear of failure

Fear can be crippling for children, impacting everything from a child’s confidence to their academic performance. In order to give your children the best chances of achieving their potential then, removing a fear of failure is nothing short of crucial.

What is fear?

fear of failure success schooling kids

The Amygdala plays a large part in the fear response and has been called the “CEO of the brain”, as it can override the rest of the brain.

This is because the brain processes the stimulus that cause fear differently to others. Joseph LeDoux, a NYU neuroscientist, has researched the way fear is exacted in the brain. Essentially, there is a shortcut created through which the stimulus bypasses the sensory cortex, and heads straight for the Amygdala. This shortcut is what causes fear to be subconscious, irrational and counterproductive to learning.

When the brain is fearful and in a state of stress, learning shuts down as the brain focuses on survival over learning.

Your child wants to feel popular because being excluded from the tribe thousands of years ago could mean death.

The brain has simply not caught up with modern life and therefore perceives many things as threats that are not dangerous anymore.

Fear of failing plays a large part in academic performance.

If we as parents are going to play a part in closing the attainment gap and helping our children perform to their best, making fear friendly – not frightening – is essential.

Studies have shown that fear and stress impact us to a large part based on our belief about stress. If we believe that stress is a bad thing, it actually harms our heath significantly more than if we believe it helps us grow and overcome challenges.

If we can teach children to seek out challenges and that fear is where growth takes place, then they will relate differently to the stress, and both the impact and experience of stress will change.

We use the comfort circle to illustrate this. Everything you are familiar and comfortable with are inside your comfort circle. Everything outside is unknown, unfamiliar, and a bit scary and stressful.

The more children learn to step outside their comfort circle, the more they grow, learn and gain resilience and confidence.

This is because real confidence is built on a child learning that they can overcome difficulty and challenges on their own, and that they are not dependent on others. Fake confidence is built on compliments, and as soon as those compliments stop, the confidence is also gone. Simply because it was created from external validation rather than from the knowledge and experience that you can overcome any challenge.

Help your children overcome fear of failing

The prefrontal cortex is the magic bullet. It was developed much later than your basic instinct of fear and has the unique ability to inhibit your fear and stress response.

Interesting studies of monks has shown us that mindfulness exercise can alter the brain by increasing the prefrontal cortex, making us less fearful and stressed.

Slow and deep breathing has also been show to activate our “relaxing” nervous system making us more calm and relaxed.

Here are some tips to help you child.

  • Teach your child to sit down in a quiet place and focus on their breathing. Try to breathe slowly and deeply. If they can put a hand on their stomach they should feel their stomach expand. We recommend doing this once per day. IT helps improve focus, attention and makes your child less fearful and stressed.
  • Define failure and success, and what these terms really mean in terms of educational and emotional development. You can reinforce that instead of being the opposite of success, failure is the choice to give up. All other issues are just setbacks towards achieving your goals, and without setbacks nothing great is achieved.
  • Praise setbacks and overcoming them rather than success. We praise success and therefore make our children fearful of getting it “wrong”. If we instead praise them when they seek out a challenge, have a setback and overcome it then they learn to seek out more challenges and the result have been show to increase their confidence, improve learning and even results. So stop focusing on the result and focus on the process actually improve the result.
  • Celebrate challenges. Teach your children that anything “challenging” and “difficult” is good – as this is when we learn the most.
  • Confront illogical fears, but writing them down and then in guidance with a parent or qualified professional confront those fears in small steps. Fear is most potent when ignored and as smaller fears get confronted, resilience is built and your child becomes less sensitive to fear.

To read more visit the Positive Edge Education blog.

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