Fear of Failure


Why does the fear of failure keep my teenage son from getting his work done? And can he learn to overcome his fear?

Anonymous in Nebraska

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Leslie Josel

Leslie Josel is the Principal of  Order Out of Chaos, an organizing consulting firm specializing in student organizing. She is the author of several books, including the recently published How to Do It Now…Because Its Not Going Away, as well as the creator of the award-winning Academic Planner: A Tool for Time Management.

The fear of under-performing or failing is a common obstacle for many kids with executive functioning deficits  or ADHD. Understanding the intricate interplay between these challenges and your child’s fear is essential to helping them navigate their academic journey.

Imagine a busy train station where trains full of concentration” are meant to depart on time. But the train station is overflowing with thoughts, ideas, impulses, etc. For those with ADHD, the concentration” trains are often derailed or delayed due to all those distractions. In other words, your child’s attention is being pulled between focus and distractibility.

Now add in the fear of failure or doing poorly, and you have another hurdle on the tracks. This fear acts like an unseen force that derails the concentration train before it can even gain momentum. It can bring anxiety, self-doubt, and a desire to avoid the task at all costs. Your child’s fear is a powerful conductor, redirecting their attention away from their work.

The fear of failure isnt solely rooted in what they have to do but also in the potential consequences that doing poorly or failing might bring. These kids frequently receive criticism and negative feedback that when coupled with their internal pressure, can amplify their fear to the point that they shut down completely.

Keep in mind that the ADHD brain is wired differently, making it more challenging to organize thoughts, prioritize tasks, and manage time efficiently. These difficulties get heavy and weigh kids down, leading to a vicious cycle of avoidance and procrastination. As deadlines loom, the fear of not measuring up increases, and the thought of trying to tackle the task becomes overwhelming.

How to Help

Following are tips and strategies to help your child overcome their fear of failure:

  • Create a nurturing and understanding environment. It might sound obvious, but its worth stating: Open communication and validating your sons feelings are essential.
  • Encourage smart strategies, such as breaking down tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. 
  • Enlist professional help, such as an ADHD coach, who can teach them tools and techniques for planning, studying, managing time and getting organized. 
  • Involve teachers and the school. Collaborate to create accommodations or modifications that can alleviate some of the pressure. Establishing a support network will empower your child to confront their fears and build resiliency.
  • And, most importantly, focus on the progress rather than the result! Celebrate even the smallest wins!

This article was adapted from ADDitude Magazine where Josel writes a weekly column called Dear ADHD Family Coach®.

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