When you look back to your childhood, you can probably pick out very specific things that scared you, such as clowns or being in a dark room. While those things still scare children today, a new fear is climbing its way to the top – the fear of failure. No one wants to fail at anything, but as humans, it’s an inevitable part of life. This notion rings even truer for foster children, who have seen failure on its grandest scale – parents failing to properly care for their own. With all they have been through, it’s particularly important to understand why they have this fear and how you can encourage your own foster child to conquer it.
Why Foster Children Need Encouragement to Conquer the Fear of Failure
While fear is a primal instinct that’s played a major role in human survival, it still carries a certain embarrassing stigma. As an adult, you’ve likely realized that stigma is trivial and by simply addressing your fears without concern of what others think that you can overcome them. Unfortunately, for children it’s not this simple. They focus on other elements that factor into the equation, such as the desire to fit in with peers and gain parental approval. For foster children these needs are even more important.
Foster children often have to find a way to fit in with a new group of friends. They may not think, for example, that the group will want to hang out with someone who can’t play a certain sport. Your foster child may love to play baseball, but he won’t go out for the local team because he is afraid he might mess up on a key play and his friends will look down on him. His fear of failing to make the play can lead to him finding it easier to not try out at all and avoid the potential embarrassment. Adding to the problem, he is also missing out on being part of a team, making new friends, finding a passion and finally feeling like just another kid.
The need for parental approval goes much deeper than the need to fit in, as there is a likelihood that the child, prior to being in your care, never received any sign of approval. In more dire situations, the child may have even experienced negative repercussions when he failed. His past experiences with success and failure can play a major role in him not wanting to try new things, as he fears his efforts will go unnoticed or he will be scolded for failing. He may also believe that if he fails at something in front of you that you will think less of him or no longer wish to care for him. While you may know that he already has your love and approval, he needs to be reminded that no matter what he does, you will never think any less of him.
Taking the time to reflect on his past may help you understand why your foster child has a fear of failure. It can also help you determine how to help him overcome his fear. We all know how a little encouragement can go a long way in helping you achieve your goals. Now imagine how much of an impact that same amount of encouragement can have on someone who may have never been praised for any of his efforts or accomplishments.
Encouraging Foster Children Past the Fear of Failure
When it comes to encouraging your foster child and helping him get over his fear of failure, you may have to take a different approach than you would for another child. You may have to break down your foster child’s current understanding of failure, which likely formed from negative past experiences, and reshape it in a positive light. While helping your foster child overcome his fear of failure may seem like a gargantuan task, it can be broken into these four easy to implement approaches.
- Share a time that you failed. This will show him you’re not perfect either. Talk about how you responded to the failure and what you took away from it. Doing so will show him that the person he looks up to is just like him and not an unachievable model of perfection. This can be particularly impactful if your story of failure turns into a story of persistence. Explain to him how you didn’t give up after not succeeding at first and eventually became very good at something you tried or that you still have fun even though you are still not good at it. Remind him that Michael Jordan didn’t make the first or second shot he ever took, but with persistence and support from others he went on to become one of the greatest to ever play the game.
- Redefine failure. Teach him that if he learned something from the experience, he didn’t fail. Failure can be one of the best sources for personal growth. Explain that he can take what he learned and apply it to what he wants to achieve. Teach him that success is about playing the game, not winning it.
- Compliment the effort. Talk to your foster child about the courage it took to try what he did. Don’t focus on the end result but rather on the journey. This will help him develop his self-esteem, which will lead to him gaining the courage to compete with his peers. The encouragement he receives along the way creates an environment where he feels loved and comfortable, giving him the courage and freedom to try new things.
- Build his confidence. Give him smaller, simpler challenges to build his confidence to the point where he is comfortable enough to take on larger ones. Encourage him the same way on all projects –no matter the size — to show that you’re there for him and proud of all of his efforts.
By encouraging foster children who have been through trauma, abuse or neglect, you’re providing them with the confidence and self-worth they need to succeed. By showing them that failure is just an opportunity to grow, you’re opening the door for them to try new things and find their passion in life. It is through your love, compassion and support that your foster child will overcome his fear of failure and reach his full potential.