My son, a happy, smart and nice boy, is 12 and until recently was doing well in his studies and sports. But now, he has a fear of trying anything at all; he says he can’t do it and will not be a success at it anyway. I think this is because he did not do as well as he expected in his school tests. I am worried this situation will get worse.
Firstly, let me reassure you that what your son is experiencing is completely natural and it affects everyone to some extent in their lives. It’s called the fear of failure. How you manage the issue with your son is important.
He’s at a time in his life where he’s beginning to approach the transition phase between boy and young man. He’s realising that his actions and choices do have an impact now, which is frightening for him. I suggest you take a constructive approach to working through specific parts of his school results.
Look calmly and objectively at where he didn’t do well. Think of ways of changing small things to help him improve. The key here is in turning a negative into positive. Make small changes. Rebuilding his confidence gradually will bring him around to getting involved in more things.
Unfortunately, we live in a global culture where the notion of ‘failing’ at something is generally perceived as only ever a bad thing. I think this is a shame.
Let me elaborate: If you take a good look at the thing you’ve ‘failed’ at, what you actually have is a great learning opportunity. You didn’t do so well at something for a reason. Be it poor preparation, insufficient time, lack of knowledge, absence of motivation – whatever the reason, you could, and should, learn from it so next time, you will do better.
Your son is scared of failing again, so naturally his solution is to stop doing the things he feels he will fail at. We’re all bombarded with imagery and messages in the media that everyone appears to be good at everything naturally, or that success is somehow instinctive. I’ve worked with some top sport stars and I can tell you, they all have a couple of traits in common - hard work and utter resilience. When the soccer star scores the ‘wonder goal’ to win the game, that’s not just skill and talent, it’s the 25,000 training shots he’s struck to perfect his art.
Perfectionism is the bedfellow of the fear of failure. Some people don’t attempt or try things at all; they feel they won’t be perfect at it and even a tiny amount of failure is virtually impossible for these people to handle.
Speak to your son and try to understand his viewpoint on why he’s not engaging in various activities. Don’t attempt to punish him into action. Instead, always work on the positives of action and not the negatives of inaction.