I have failed a lot in my life.
Probably more than I have succeeded.
Starting way back when, I did not make the all star softball team and also lost the race for activities commissioner in middle school. In high school I wanted to be the school mascot and was not chosen. (Which is a blessing in disguise because I am extremely claustrophobic and may have had a panic attack right there on the field…”Cougar Down!”) The only thing I was ever awarded was a class vote for “best smile” as a senior, and that award my friends, should go to my orthodontist. In regards to grades, I barely skated by in both high school and college. (My mom says I was “easily distracted!”) Honestly none of it made sense to me except for writing, so I pressed through for the literal love of writing and because I thought I wanted to be a teacher. To this day, be glad I am not your child’s teacher unless it’s a summer creative writing class, then they are in good hands. Although class may get called off once or twice due to “good weather.”
My point? I failed, survived, and learned a lot about myself in the process.
My children don’t struggle academically like i did, thanks to their daddy’s strong genes and work ethic, but there is stress to be excellent; self imposed stress that comes from wanting to do their best, and frankly from living in an extremely academically competitive school district. It’s sometimes hard to relate to honestly, because my academic struggles were like, “Why don’t I get this, how can I get the answers from someone before noon and Uhm…can I write a poem for extra credit please?”
Last year the pressure to succeed got my daughter feeling “some kinda way” and her fear of failure, fear of it all collapsing if she took a break, was real and gripping!
We had to take a break and have a heart to heart. I don’t know if it helps my kids but I tell them things like,”I sucked at stuff and still went to college.” or “I failed mostly everything and we rejoiced over my C’s and I now have a lovely life so it’s all going to be okay.”
My goal here is certainly not to breed mediocrity but to bring perspective.
The stress she was experiencing just was not worth it. I don’t care to be in the top 10,7 or 6 percent if this is the cost.
“Fail and see what happens.” I said, “Overcome that fear! Heck, it’s better than all this stress! Get a “C” for crying out loud and feel what if feels like and see if the world ends or you dies.
“But, that’s unacceptable and horrible!”
So be unacceptable and horrible for a day! You won’t die, I promise Academic excellence is not the end all be all, and being average is not the end of the world. I want her to feel that.
Quick reminder: C is average.
Heck, it’s all relative, right? If that is THE very best you could do, then it’s not horrible for you. That’s excellent! Congratulations on doing your best.
The internal dialogue:
“I’m not good.
I’m not good enough.
There must be something wrong with me.
I’m a failure and a disappointment.”
This simply isn’t true so I try to help her rewrite the script and find her value and worth in something other than performance and perfection. Dare I suggest we look to our Creator who made us in His image and loves us UNCONDITIONALLY! He loved us as He created us even in our mother’s womb and declares that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Before we ever took “WHAP or APUSH” (fancy history classes folks, that create serious PTSD)
Have you considered giving them permission to fail?
To not be perfect?
To do their best and let it be enough?
It’s so important for us as parents to set boundaries, show them healthy responses to stress and failure, and point them to their true source of identity. Surely we’ve been through something similar, seen the other side and can offer such great perspective. My daughter is slowly learning how to walk away from the desk for awhile when she feels too stressed and also that her identity is not in her academic success and failure. These are huge faith steps towards freedom from the gripping fear of failure. Balance is coming. It’s a process and I am committed to helping her.
Does your child struggle this way?
Are you prioritizing helping them?
Here are a few resources for you, as you help your child create balance and overcome the fear of failure: