Recognizing fear of failure in children & tips against fear of failure

Children can have a fear of failure, sometimes at a very young age. Negative feelings and thoughts make a child feel unwell and this often affects school performance, for example. If a child suffers (a lot) from fear of failure, it is wise to catch it early and take steps as a parent(s) or caregiver(s).

Recognizing fear of failure

Everyone, young or old, experiences some form of fear of failure every now and then. Such fear can usually be described as positive, for example to perform extra well during a test. It becomes a different story when fear of failure seems to take over in all kinds of daily situations. For example, fear of failure can no longer be called functional for a child when he or she lies awake at night because of a speech. Fear of failure in children can be recognized in a number of ways:

  • The child is often concerned with ‘performing’. For example, a good grade means a good mood, a bad grade evokes many negative thoughts.
  • The child shows in body language that he or she is afraid. Biting the lip, shaking, clammy hands, stuttering; Such characteristics can be signs of fear of failure.
  • The child loses overview of certain activities. For example, is easily distracted or works uncontrollably.


Fear of failure at school

Children who suffer from fear of failure will most likely also have this at school. Certain situations at school can be quite stressful. Developments (particularly cognitive) have been tested and monitored since infancy. As children get older, they can find testing very exciting. There may be a number of reasons for this: for example, the pressure in the group (class) to perform is very great, the child does not meet its own expectations, or parents (and teachers) attach (too) much importance to test results. In addition to cognitive performance, social situations can also cause fear of failure. Giving a speech or discussion in class is an example of this, but the interaction between children in the classroom (think of situations on the schoolyard) can also give rise to fear of failure.

Why fear of failure?

Why children become fearful of failure is related to a number of factors. Environment, upbringing, but also character and talent, for example, play a role. Fear of failure cannot always be prevented. If environment and upbringing have a positive influence on fear of failure, the fearful child will probably be less insecure and fearful of failure. An important step in the child becoming more confident is awareness. The environment and parents must recognize that a child suffers from fear of failure and not see this as a personal weakness. After recognition, help can be sought by the parents (and possibly the school). Some schools have special courses (such as Social Skills Training) for children. Sometimes a psychologist or haptonomist can help a child (and parents) get rid of the worst fear of failure. And of course, looking for more information about fear of failure is already a step in the right direction.

Tips for fear of failure

  • Recognize that the child is fearful of failure; don’t see it as ‘being weak’
  • Discuss his/her fears with the child and try to listen carefully
  • Provide as much clarity as possible to the child about all kinds of important daily matters
  • Set a good example; shows that ‘negative experiences’ do not necessarily have to be bad and that ‘positive experiences’ do not immediately lead to happiness
  • Don’t put too much emphasis on school performance. For example, emphasize what the child is good at, but try to positively encourage what the child is less good at.
  • Make agreements (a plan) with the school about how to deal with the child’s fear of failure in the classroom
  • Let the child take a course or training