Highly sensitive children are often perfectionists. Perfectionists don’t like making mistakes and find criticism difficult to take. It means that highly sensitive children commonly have a fear of failure.
I have heard the words ‘perfectionism’ and ‘fear of failure’ during school parent’s evenings about all three of my sons. Battling the fear of failure is something that I try to help my children with. Which is a struggle when you are a perfectionist yourself.
Parents shouldn’t underestimate just how debilitating this fear can be.
The fear of failure stops a child from even starting.
The fear of failure means activities take far longer than they should.
The fear of failure results in tears and meltdowns.
The fear of failure results in procrastination and avoiding some situations.
The fear of failure makes a child feel useless and incapable. A child doubts their abilities.
The fear of failure can lead to extreme stress, anxiety and even physical symptoms.
But thankfully there are things you can do as a parent to help your child with their fear of failure.
Ask yourself whether you are modeling perfectionism. One of the most effective ways to combat your child’s fear of failure is to lead by example. Accept ‘good enough’. Show that you can strive for excellence without chasing perfect.
Show your child how to enjoy an activity without doing it perfectly. Color outside the lines. Scribble out a wrong word. Tear out a page.
Help your child understand that everyone makes mistakes. EVERYONE. Give examples of your own mistakes. Laugh about them. Highlight your own failures to your child. Explain what you learned and how you bounced back, tried again and then succeeded.
Get your child’s teacher involved. Organize a class activity based on ‘The Biggest Mistake I Ever Made’ and discuss how classmates and the teacher overcame their mistake. (This is a great idea my dad shared with me when we were talking about a fear of failure.)
Adjust goals to make them achievable. Help your child identify the little steps they can take to reach their goal. When you break goals down into small, manageable steps you help your child banish their fears of taking the next step.
Praise how your child tackles an activity or a project and not the result. Praise the achievements, no matter how small and the fact that your child is making the effort to tackle a task.
It is also useful to examine why a particular task evokes a fear of failure. Maybe there is a negative association with something from the past. For example, a nasty fall on a bike after removing the stabilizers may cause a reluctance to get back on a bike.
Lastly, make sure your child is not constantly comparing themselves and their achievements to their peers. ‘Everyone is unique’ is an important message for every child to understand.
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