Creating A Safe Space For Learning

Do you know if your child is afraid of failure?
Whether or not your child verbalises it, it is probably something that your child worries about.

A 2019 OECD study found that a whopping 3 out of 4 Singaporean students say that they are afraid of failure. In addition, there is the upheaval of living during a pandemic and adapting to the changes of online learning and the new PSLE grading system this year. Your child, along with many others, may very well be silently living in constant fear over their next hurdle, be it a simple piece of homework or a major examination.

Psychologists have found that fear of failure is correlated with poorer academic performance (Caraway & Tucker, 2003) and lower interest in subjects (Pantziara & Philippou, 2015). It can even make students begin to feel a sense of helplessness (De Castella, Byrne, and Covington, 2013). In short, being fearful of failure can affect a child’s performance in school, which then becomes a vicious cycle.

What can you do as a parent?
The fact is, the fear of failure is a deep rooted, instinctual fear that is not so easily overridden by some mantras. Just like how the timid neighbourhood cat would not warm up to you overnight, consistency and patience is key in nurturing a growth mindset within your child. Here are some ways you can encourage your child:

1. Reframe Results

Often it is not failure itself that makes us feel lousy; rather, it is us understanding the failure as evidence that we lack the ability to do something. Be there with your child whenever they feel they have underperformed, and explore what can be done differently or perhaps adopting a different approach to get different results. Reframe the conversation to seeing results as telling us where learning has not happened. This shift in perspective will encourage your child to try harder while preserving his or her confidence and self-efficacy.

2. Emphasise A Growth Mindset

Children may lack the awareness to understand that learning and getting better at any skill is a long-term process. They may believe they have a fixed level of ability which conclusively determines that they will never be able to improve. As a parent, you can nurture a growth mindset by constantly reminding your child that they can indeed get better at anything with effort and dedication. You can even say things like, “I used to struggle with spelling...but I found a way to help remember and practiced till I got better!

Practice the Growth Mindset with non-academic pursuits too! Pick up a new skill together and work on it. Roller blading, painting, coding are just some ideas. What great ways to connect with your child and show them that you are interested in more than just their academic performance.

3. Be Gentle

Our inner critics are loud enough. Students’ performance in all areas of their lives are measured, pinned to statistics and compared across numerous domains.

Assure your child that you are there with them no matter how tough things get and regardless of their achievements. Be gentle with them as they figure out who they are and their place in this fast paced world. Often, all they need is to know you love them no matter what.