Three Ways To Help Students Overcome The Fear Of Failure

It is natural for children to have fears from time to time. It has been proven that fear can even be good for our children sometimes because it can help them perform better in certain instances.  However, understanding the core of what is behind fear can be helpful when teaching your child how to cope. As children get older, it is natural that they will begin to compare themselves to others.  Parents might first notice this reaction from their children in households with more than one child.  One child might notice that their sibling is better at math.  Or perhaps playing a sport comes naturally to one child while another is better at piano.  Whatever the situation, it is important for parents to be active in managing their child’s expectations with themselves as well as how they react to their child’s endeavors.

According to a study by UC Berkeley professor of the Graduate School in Psychology, Martin Covington, the fear of failure is directly linked to ones self-worth, or the belief that you are valuable as a person. As a result, Covington found that students will put themselves through unbelievable psychological maneuvers in order to avoid failure and maintain the sense that they are worthy, which can have long-term consequences.  Fortunately, Covington’s research also provides tips for parents and educators to help students deal with feelings of failure—thereby helping them to fulfill their true potential.


What Will Students Do To Avoid Failure?


Covington’s years of research revealed that one way students protect their sense of self-worth is to believe that they are competent and then make others believe that as well.  If they can achieve this, they can maintain a sense of self-worth, or so they believe.  This is true in any competitive situation, particularly school.  Students closely link their ability to perform with their self-worth.  If a student doesn’t believe he or she has the ability to succeed, then they will begin to engage in practices or make excuses so they can preserve their self-worth, both to themselves and others.  Understanding the complexity of the fear of failure can lead some students to succeed in school while others simply give up.  With the latter, telling them to “just deal with it” isn’t going to help. Instead, these students need a helping hand to help them achieve success.


What Will Help Students Overcome the Fear of Failure?


A Tutor can certainly set up a student to become success-oriented rather than failure-oriented.  While every situation is different, the key is for educators and parents to recognize when a student is engaging in failure-based behavior.  Here are three things that can help.


  1. Focus on effort over ability.  While students are learning it is important that their efforts be recognized rather than just their inherent ability.  This is important because as children get older, they have a tendency to value their ability over their effort.  One way a tutor can help with this is that they can provide specific feedback to students that not only recognizes but praises their efforts at the time of the task.  This is important because this can help students believe they can succeed.
  2. Encourage Students To Be More Self-Accepting.  Some research suggests that self-worth is attached to categories such as academic success, athletic ability or popularity.  However, it is important that educators and parents teach children compassion toward themselves because, research has shown that those who practice self-acceptance and compassion are more likely to try new things and not take failure so hard.  They view it as part of life’s experiences and are able to recover more quickly from a negative experience.  By doing this, they are able to manage their expectations and take on more challenges.
  3. Talk to Students About Their Fear of Failure. Educators and parents are in the best position to see if a student is struggling with failure.  Rather than sweep it under the carpet, talk about it with the student openly.  Research has revealed that students who believe that when teachers and parents value their input and efforts they were motivated to work harder.  Covington discovered that when he asked his students how fear of failure was impacting their lives, he found that they were grateful for the information as it helped them take control of their attitude and behavior toward schoolwork.


In the end, by gaining a better understanding of the fear of failure tended to make educators more compassionate and understanding of students and their struggles with failure.  So as a parent, whatever your child’s vocation, nurture their aptitude toward what they excel at and obtain assistance is the areas they might struggle.  A tutor can be an invaluable resource to your child and can turn their frustration and fear and failure into a great learning opportunity in self-acceptance which in turn, can give them more courage to take on even greater challenges.


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  1. A simple and inineltglet point, well made. Thanks!