The Psychology of Failure

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February 7, 2013 by sarahmortonisp

As a teacher, it’s important not to baby kids; but not to be too harsh. It’s important to encourage them; yet to let them set their own goals and develop their own interests. It’s a delicate balance–so I think it’s important to understand the psychology of failure in children, and how to deal with a child who’s afraid to fail or who feels they have failed in some way.

According to (, one of the ways children cope with a fear of failure is through self-handicapping, or purposely choosing easy tasks and setting easy goals that they know they can succeed at. This, of course, severely limits them and curbs their potential. 

According to this same article reviewed by Frank Rossi, “People who fear failure become perfectionists in an attempt to avoid the feelings of shame and embarrassment that come with failure. Someone who perceives a lot of pressure to succeed from her parents is more likely to feel shameful and embarrassed if she fails.” In response to this, I think as a teacher or as any figure of authority and influence, it’s important to make sure students know from a young age that perfection is a highly unattainable goal and that they should strive to do their personal best and be okay with making mistakes. It’s more important to stress the individual talents each student has than to attempt to make them live up to some ideal.

In fact, I have experienced this firsthand. The third grade girl I babysit regularly, Kacy, likes to play games on her parents’ iphones. One day she was playing a puzzle game where the goal is to move blocks around to let a ball pass through. After a few failed attempts, she closed the game and began to play a game that was definitely below her ability–it involved counting fruit on the screen, touching the purple object, etc. And, fair enough, she never failed once. But she certainly didn’t gain as much as she would have playing the block game. 


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