Fear of failure in school has been proven to affect a student’s inclination towards education. When this type of fear takes hold of you at a very young age, not only will your motivation to learn suffer but your overall outlook in life could also break down. If the intensity of the fear has become extreme, a person could continually become reluctant to take risks in school and in life.
When fear of failure is persistent and abnormal, mental health experts call it Atychiphobia. It’s a specific phobia that can lead to a strangled and often devastating lifestyle as sufferers lose all the will and interest to try new activities or experiences.
Negative Effects to Students
This type of fear can affect individuals at all levels of the educational system, from primary schoolers to college students. And here are the common effects observed among sufferers:
- They fail to realize their true potential in school and later in life.
- A student’s interest in learning is obliterated.
- When developed at an early age, fear of failure could pressure individuals to take on goals simply to affirm or boost their ego rather than work with things that match their interests and aim for personal growth.
- The desire to avoid failure at all costs could force the sufferer to cheat rather than use effective strategies in studying and learning.
Main Causes of Fear of Failure
Unlike in other types of fear, the triggers that bring about fear of failure are mostly based on personal emotions and perceptions. In fear of heights, for instance, sufferers are one in saying that they don’t like to be exposed to heights because they are afraid of falling. This is not the case with fear of failure where the causes can be vague.
Researchers say that failure in itself is not what terrifies students suffering from this type of fear. Rather, they are afraid of the consequences when they fail. In other words, students are afraid of being labeled as underachievers or, worse, empty-headed failures.
There are four factors that can trigger this kind of sentiment:
- Educational System
Ironically, fear of failure starts at the very system meant to develop students. You see, teacher performance is evaluated based on the grades of students. Under present standards, students getting good grades indicates that their teacher is performing very well and hence incentives are in order.
When this happens, teachers will zero in on meeting grade levels rather than focusing on the personal interests and overall development of their students. Anyone who doesn’t meet the grade standard are labeled as failures and it negatively affects student perception.
- Personal Emotions
A student’s personal emotions can trigger this type of fear. When one feels great shame or guilt whenever school standards are not met, then fear of failure is right around the corner.
- Social and Interpersonal Relationships
Students who are afraid of ruining the hopes and expectations of their parents and teachers are more likely to suffer from fear of failure in school. Schoolmates who are inclined to mock and jeer at the failures of others can only intensify the matter.
In short, if a student sees that getting good grades and fulfilling all school activities with flying colors are the only means of gaining other people’s support and approval, then losing that kind of trust because of failure is totally unacceptable.
- Career Goals
This trigger is more applicable to college level students who are so close to their dream jobs. While finding a good job after graduation is a strong motivator for students to perform in school, it can also trigger fear of failure. Most students believe that increasing their chances of having a decent job in the market means avoiding any form of failure in school at all costs.
What Can Students Do
While fear of failure may apply to all types of school activities, it is more observable in tests or exams. Here are some tips to conquer fear of failure in school.
- See the True Value of Education
Students should see the real value of learning instead of turning education simply as a means to impress or win approval from their family, teachers, and friends. As a student, you should break free from the notion that your grades define who you are.
- Learn to Accept Oneself
Students should learn how to accept their strengths and weaknesses. You have a different set of talents from others. Therefore, there’s no use in comparing grades and performance levels in school. It greatly helps to come up with your own definition of success rather than molding your identity into other people’s idea of excellence.
- Find Adventure in Education
Success in school is all about motivation. When you’re motivated you work hard to achieve your goals. By having a sense of adventure as you go along the path of higher learning, you will be more open to failure as part of the journey.
What Can Parents and Teachers Do
- Allow Your Child to Fail
The most direct response to fear of failure is allowing young students to fail. Parents should be responsible enough to tell their kids early on that failing is a part of life. In her new book The Gift of Failure, author Jessica Lahey emphasizes that it’s only by trying and failing at things that children are best able to learn and discover not just themselves but the world in general.
Indeed, breaking plates in the dishwasher or losing in the quiz bee are frustrating, but these experiences can prepare young students to think for themselves and gain a better grasp on life.
- Give Students More Autonomy
As a parent, it’s your responsibility to guide your child towards success, academically or otherwise. But being instructive or dictatorial about your kid’s performance in school can do more harm than good and fear of failure is just one of the negative effects. By giving children a bigger elbow room, they become less scared and miserable. When that happens, not only are they happier but they are also more likely to experience fulfillment in their work at school or at home. Ultimately, providing children with more autonomy prepares them in making decisions in life.
- Discard Your Two-Sided View of Success and Failure
Parents tend to have a black-and-white view about success and failure in school. Meaning, a student can only be categorized as either an achiever or a failure. Worse, many parents and teachers are under the impression that performance in school is an indication of a child’s future.
Instead of believing that there are only two sides to a child’s performance, it’s a far better option to view the growing up years and education of a child as a series of ups and downs. There are times and activities where a student will excel in and there are those where a student just won’t perform very well. The good news is that for all the things where they failed, students have the opportunity to figure things out and learn how to get back on their feet.
- Adjust Expectations
Parents and teachers must continually learn how to adjust and let students do the work for themselves. Students must be allowed to plan and execute their own learning strategies. And they don’t have to be put in a position where their projects must be worthy of a Nobel Prize. Parents and teachers should instead accept the fact that the big picture in education is not all about getting straight A’s.
Fear of failure affects everyone. But for some students the result is nothing short of paralyzing. Struggling with the guilt and shame of failing in school starts at a very early age. Often, the education system, parents, and teachers are at fault for instilling this kind of fear. Therefore, they should also play a role in fighting it off. It’s crucial that the system begins to recognize that grades are not the ones at stake, but rather the overall well-being of the students.