Is Your Kid’s Fear Of Failure Stopping Them From Trying New Things? Try This.

fear of failure

It can be heartbreaking to watch your kid lose out on opportunities because their fear of failure stops them from trying new things. You see their fear and know from your own experience that if they just gave it a try, they would feel SO much better…

But when your kid is overrun by fear, and anxiety sets in, it can feel next to impossible to break through their defenses. What’s a parent to do? 

Fear not, there are some basic skills you can teach your kid so they will stop avoiding and start living. 

1. Start With Identifying What They Are Doing and How They Are Feeling

The best place to start is to understand just what they are feeling about trying something new. The trick here is to remember they might not make it easy on us: 

  • Some kids don’t communicate clearly about feelings (especially if it is something your family does not normally do).
  • Even if they are communicating clearly, words and behavior may be inconsistent, and confusing. (They say they are fine, but their shoulders are slumped and they appear listless.)

One way around these challenges is to focus on their behavior rather than what they are saying or the mixed messages they are sending. 

It is much harder to lie through behavior than through words, and behavior is what often gives away a person’s true – or strongest – desires – for kids as well as adults. 

Even if your kid doesn’t talk about their anxiety, no behavior is more revealing of anxiety than avoidance. We avoid because we fear, and sometimes not even consciously. This can be especially true when it comes to trying new things. 

 

2. Help Them Identify What is Happening and Accept Their Feelings

Ask about your kid’s feelings and note the behavior you see. Then reflect back to them what you see them doing, and ask what emotions are driving their behavior.

Convey empathy by saying things like: “I can see how xx could be scary.”  “I can understand how hard it is to take a chance and put yourself out there when…”;  

 

3. Help Your Kid Identify The Feelings Behind Their Behavior

This is enormously helpful in alleviating anxiety. By labeling the emotion, you create a sense of control. In a comprehensive study on emotional labeling, researchers showed that the simple act of labeling our feelings or putting a name to our emotions, can significantly reduce anxiety.

You can help your kid manage their fear of failure in trying something new, by encouraging them to tune into what they are feeling and naming it for themselves. When they can see that it is fear that is driving their avoidance, they can then focus on the specific fear thoughts and address them one by one.

 

4. Explain How Avoidance Drives UP Anxiety Rather Than Driving It Down

It is important to encourage your kid to give themselves the chance to succeed by trying, even if they are afraid. Explain to them that avoidance drives UP anxiety rather than alleviates it. 

When we avoid those things that we fear, we are running away from the wrong thing. We are running away from the event that we believe is the source of our fear; but, what we are actually afraid of are the crazy scenarios our imagination concocts.  

When we avoid we actually let fear itself take control, and fear tends to  make up some pretty disastrous and unrealistic scenarios. Then the more that we avoid, the more and more crazy scenarios our minds generate to make sure we avoid the event or situation.  So instead of avoidance alleviating fear, it ends up increasing it. 

Help your child identify something they were afraid to do but did anyway and ask them to remember how they felt afterward. Ask them if they are still afraid of that situation. Then point out how pushing through the fear and discomfort and trying that new thing actually ended up eliminating the fear.

 

5. Help Them Right Size Risk Assessment and Sort Through the Reality of Their Fear of Failure (often they are way overblown)

Teach them how to conduct their own risk assessment. Have them list out all those imagined disasters that they are anticipating will occur if they were to attend the event or try the new activity.

Then go through each one and have them consider whether the disaster is probable (likely to happen) or merely possible – one out of million things that could happen. If they determine something is probable, ask what hard data or facts they have to support their belief. 

You could then encourage them to think of some probable benefits of attending the event. As you help them to see a variety of positive and negative results, their anxiety will likely decrease because the focus of attention is no longer solely on the negative. It has been neutralized. 

 

6. Teach Them Why Failing Is Important to Learning and Building Resilience

Basically you want to offer a plug for the importance of failure – should it happen – as a valuable practice they will need to stretch and grow throughout life. The sooner they learn how to fail, the more resilient they will be. According to Leslie Reopel, MS, “resilience is the process of being able to adapt well and bounce back quickly in times of stress.” 

You can help them think about the positive aspects of a negative experience. That is to say, show them how the failure they anticipate as one of the probable outcomes, could actually have positive effects.

For example, if the thing they are avoiding is trying out for the top lacrosse team, point out the benefits of trying and failing: meeting new kids; learning what skills they need to develop so they can target their training; making the developmental team (instead of the elite travel team) gives them more playing time and opportunity to further develop their skills; less time traveling to far away games and more time to socialize or pursue another interest while they continue to develop their lacrosse skills, etc…

 

7. Maybe The Hardest… Manage Your Own Fear of Failure

Now, these are all effective ways to help you kid manage their own fear, but there is one very important thing you need to be aware of at the same time – your own fear.

One of the most helpful things you can do to support your kids in facing their fear of failure, is to face your own first. It is scary to think about our kids failing, and sometimes we may need to remind ourselves kids won’t break if they fail; instead, they will grow stronger if we let them. 

 

As parents we need to challenge our kids to face fears with success, and challenge ourselves to let them.

 

Notice if you have your own fear and anxiety about the type of situation your kid has been avoiding. It is important to know how you are relating to the event or situation your child is avoiding, because kids are very observant. 

Kids can sense parents’ anxiety and are likely to take it on as their own. If you don’t want to exacerbate their fear and anxiety, make sure to manage your own.

It is  important for you as a parent to go through your own anxiety reducing exercises, so you can come to your kid with the confidence they need to be brave. 

 

This is an inside job all around – for you and your kid.

Fear of failure is natural and you can help your kid learn to manage it if you first pay attention to what you are feeling yourself. As you manage your fear, you become a more experienced guide. You can help your kid to stop letting their fear of failure run the show, so it no longer stops them from trying new things.

 

Looking for more help managing anxiety? Check out my online interactive Hack Your Anxiety Accelerator based on my bestselling book, Hack Your Anxiety. This 6 module online interactive training uses downloadable exercises and targeted explanations to furnish you  the tools you need, step by step, to fast-track taking control of anxiety right now. Offered at a huge discount for a limited time, claim your spot here.
Photo by the blowup on Unsplash

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD

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