Fear Of Failure And Training (As A Strategy To Handle This)

What is fear of failure?

A temporary fear which acts like an obstacle when you have to perform on a cognitive, social or physical level (within school performances).

The student gets lower scores because of this fear and the fear lowers his well-being.


Two types of fear of failure (FoF)

  1. Positive fear of failure
  2. Negative fear of failure
    • Active: working hard, working only for school, if not helped in danger of falling into 'passive'…
    • Passive: efforts without good results, experiencing only disappointments (rebelliousness, truancy).


  • Cognitive fear of failure
  • Social fear of failure
  • Motor skills fear of failure
  • Combinations

How do FoF students think?

  • Low and negative self-image/tunnel view
  • "I'm the only one!"
  • Disaster movie, they have the leading role
  • Constantly trying to avoid failures
  • A good result is because of coincidence and external factors (not because of their efforts)
  • A negative result confirms their negative self-image ("I knew it, I'm worthless and I can't do anything!")

Signals of FoF students

1. The very dependent student

  • Eagerly accepts and type of assistance or help
  • Can explain and talk about his own fear of failure
  • Gets acknowledged for his problems
  • Needs a lot of feedback ("Am I doing this right?")
  • Needs clarity in tasks and lessons ("What do you expect from me?")

If every student behaved like this, the problem would be very easily recognised.

2. The closed/introverted student

  • Difficulties in expressing himself
  • Denies his problem
  • Often sits for long hours on his tasks without noticeable results/procrastination
  • Needs warm relationships ("They must like me/find me cool.")
  • Expresses his disappointments through aggression
  • Is restless during tests or exams and/or collapses during oral exams

3. The brutal student

  • Hides his fear of failure behind challenging and aggressive behaviour
  • Creates problems during lessons and seeks conflict with the teacher (clown/aggressive/unreasonable)
  • Is often a lot calmer at home i.c. with his behaviour at school

Physical reactions

  • Head, stomach or abdominal pain
  • Bad sleeper
  • Frequent need for urination and/or diarrhea
  • Heart beatings
  • Over agile/sweaty and shaky hands
  • Faster breathing/hyperventilation
  • Poor appetite (especially in early morning)
  • Sweat
  • Occurrence of black outs

Training: Handling fear of failure

  • It's not training for students who:
    • Just want to increase their self-confidence and be more assertive
    • Have low scores due to learning disabilities
    • Can not find their social space in school
    • Choose training with a level that does not match theirs
  • It is training that's about:
    • Learning how to make stress manageable
    • Contextual approach
    • Adjusting to the problems that the student experiences
    • Making the student aware of their own influence/learning from others
    • Safety (rules and feedback)
  • Practical part (70%)
    • Lowering the stress in the body and mind through all kinds of exercises
    • Rational emotive therapy (RET) - getting insight into your thinking and behaviour patterns
    • Practical exercises (adjusted to the problems of the student) - giving a lesson…

Supporting FoF students during lessons and exams

  • Individual level:
    • Let the student feel that you accept him and that you value him (not only focusing on scores)
    • Pay attention to his efforts
    • Find a balance between positive and negative feedback when talking about his performance. Also emphasize what is going well.
    • Give feedback in a positive and constructive form
    • Making mistakes is human, nobody is perfect
    • Make them aware of their own influence on their success
    • Being afraid is human also (Thoughts => Emotion => Behaviour)
    • Over protection can make FoF worse (creates pressure)
    • Make them aware of their limitations - you can;t be good at everything
  • Classroom level
    • Provide a friendly, non-threatening classroom atmosphere
    • Make your lessons clear and predictable
    • Avoid making sarcastic, hurtful and humiliating remarks to your students
    • Discuss in advance what and how they have to learn for your subject
    • Overpopulation, over-crowded facilities and excessive noise work in a negative way for the class
  • Exams
    • Help them so that they can efficiently prepare themselves for the exam - what and how do they have to learn something?
    • Formulate your questions clearly
    • Questions from easy to difficult - beginning with familiar tasks
    • Give them enough time and guidance if they have questions
    • Ensure that the slowest student has enough time to check his answers
    • Again, overpopulation, over-crowded facilities and excessive noise work in a negative way

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