Fear of Failure


Dr. Homeschool,

My children are extremely anxious both about daily assignments and tests.  They are afraid of making any mistakes and resistant to learning new things.

Dear Anxious:

               Your problem is a result of the way we have all been trained to “school” our children in America.  They are taught from the beginning that failure is a BAD thing and must be avoided.  Even if you teach them about Edison and his thousands of failures before he invented a practical light bulb,

their daily homeschool routine doesn’t reflect that sort of trial and error.  It’s the nature of our school system to engender a fear of failure and I fear that most homeschool families today copy the system instead of breaking out of it.

               It sounds like your children need a serious detox.  My solution may sound extreme, but here it is.  Drop anything that looks like school and get them involved in REAL projects like small businesses, carpentry, art or craft projects, service projects, animal raising or training (4H is great for this), gardening, cooking, cake decorating, etc.  Your children have been trained (I understand it was not conscious on your part!) to avoid failure at all costs.  That fear will stay with them until it is overridden by hands-on evidence.

               Fear is not susceptible to reason.  It happens in a different part of the brain.  Once a fear is embedded, it must be removed with the opposite experience.  Your children must learn new things in a stress-free environment.  Usually, this will be something that interests or excites them.  Or, it might involve teaching or helping a younger child to do something.  It might take only a few months or it might take a year or longer.  Your children won’t cease to learn while you do this.  You may even see so much learning going on that you never go back to what you did before.

               One of the most valuable gifts you can give your children is a love of learning along with the confidence that they can learn anything they set their minds to.  However, this cannot be forced;  it has to develop naturally with many experiences.  We tend to think that cranking through school-type lessons is necessary to prepare our children for life.  Actually, very little in life resembles school lessons.  School is a very inefficient way to gain the skills needed to succeed in life, including reading and writing.  Nurture confidence along with a love of learning the things that are important to each of them and they will be unstoppable!