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8 year old fear of failure?


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#1 LenaK

Posted 20 August 2019 - 04:16 AM

I have an 8 year old DS who is a very sensitive kid with an insatiable desire to understand everything. He is wonderfully intuitive and often grasps difficult concepts with ease but when he needs to actually do something he just kinda looses it.

We were working through an activity book today where you need to fill a space with circles, starting with large circles and then smaller ones. The concept of infinite circles was no problem. We had a great discussion and he asked some insightful questions, but when he actually needed to draw them he was almost paralysed. He threw a massive tantrum refused to draw a single circle, saying it was too hard and he didn't understand. It didn't matter how much I tried to comfort him and convince him that there was no wrong answer he couldn't bring himself to put the pencil to the paper.

Yesterday we went through an almost exact same process with some times tables.  He needed to draw some lines to the matching multiples of 2 to discover a hidden shape. He knows his two times tables, but he was yelling about it being too hard and he hasn't done his 9 times tables yet and how could be possibly know what 2x9 was. Before he even started he gave up and threw his book across the room.

I've seen this sort of behaviour on repeat with all sorts of things from kicking a ball (he flatly refused to play soccer with his friends until he was sure he could competently kick the ball) singing a song (until he knew every word). He had a tantrum about decorating cookies!!

He hates being wrong and will flatly argue about being wrong even in the face of empirical evidence (i.e. The sky is orange).

We focus a lot on the value of effort and trying, and that falling down, making mistakes and being wrong are part of the learning process and we have started making a conscious effort to model this by pointing out our own mistakes.

His school work suffers because he simply wont try and his behaviour at home is escalating with tantrums over the smallest thing. I get the impression that he is just completely overwhelmed but I don't know anymore how to support him and help him overcome this?

Any suggestions and ideas would be greatly appreciated?

#2 BornToLove

Posted 20 August 2019 - 05:21 AM

Is his homework directly related to what is being taught that week in the classroom?

We have similar issues with DD’s homework book and the core issue is that what gets assigned (they work through the book front to back, two pages at a time) is not related in any way to what the class is currently learning. Often DD has literally no idea about any of the concepts she needs to know in order to solve the questions.

Teacher insists assigned work be completed, but it’s a fight week after week with the homework book specifically. We have taken to just giving DD the answers to fill in when it comes to the workbook because it’s just not worth the hassle and tantrums it triggers. All other assigned homework (spelling, show and tell, reading etc) DD can and does happily complete with little assistance from us.

ETA - we have raised the issue with the school on several occasions and have pushed for homework ‘that reflects current classroom teaching’. Teachers fully agree that it’s ‘busy work’ and not the first to complain. But at the end of the day, DD is penalised for not doing the work (there is a points system/reward chart in place) so we just give her the answers.

Edited by BornToLove, 20 August 2019 - 05:34 AM.


#3 redchick

Posted 20 August 2019 - 05:36 AM

View PostLenaK, on 20 August 2019 - 04:16 AM, said:

I have an 8 year old DS who is a very sensitive kid with an insatiable desire to understand everything. He is wonderfully intuitive and often grasps difficult concepts with ease but when he needs to actually do something he just kinda looses it.

We were working through an activity book today where you need to fill a space with circles, starting with large circles and then smaller ones. The concept of infinite circles was no problem. We had a great discussion and he asked some insightful questions, but when he actually needed to draw them he was almost paralysed. He threw a massive tantrum refused to draw a single circle, saying it was too hard and he didn't understand. It didn't matter how much I tried to comfort him and convince him that there was no wrong answer he couldn't bring himself to put the pencil to the paper.

Yesterday we went through an almost exact same process with some times tables.  He needed to draw some lines to the matching multiples of 2 to discover a hidden shape. He knows his two times tables, but he was yelling about it being too hard and he hasn't done his 9 times tables yet and how could be possibly know what 2x9 was. Before he even started he gave up and threw his book across the room.

I've seen this sort of behaviour on repeat with all sorts of things from kicking a ball (he flatly refused to play soccer with his friends until he was sure he could competently kick the ball) singing a song (until he knew every word). He had a tantrum about decorating cookies!!

He hates being wrong and will flatly argue about being wrong even in the face of empirical evidence (i.e. The sky is orange).

We focus a lot on the value of effort and trying, and that falling down, making mistakes and being wrong are part of the learning process and we have started making a conscious effort to model this by pointing out our own mistakes.

His school work suffers because he simply wont try and his behaviour at home is escalating with tantrums over the smallest thing. I get the impression that he is just completely overwhelmed but I don't know anymore how to support him and help him overcome this?

Any suggestions and ideas would be greatly appreciated?

We’ve had similar at my place with an unwillingness to try new things in case they got something wrong. School has been very good and consistent in its messaging that it’s absolutely fine to get things wrong. I also think it is partly a maturity issue, my boys are much better with it now than they were at your DS’s age.

Are you able to chat to your DS’s teacher to find out the school’s approach and let them know that DS is afraid of getting things wrong? It sounds like it is happening and school and home so good to be on the same page

Sorry I can’t offer any more help, it’s so hard to see kids putting so much pressure on themselves (and getting upset)

All the best

RC




#4 Prancer is coming

Posted 20 August 2019 - 06:47 AM

Keep going with the talk about effort being the most important, mistakes are okay and pointing out when you make a mistake.

Ages ago I also read that it is helpful to ask them questions with no real right answer just to try and get them used to having a go.  Stuff like how many dogs do you think live in our street, nan loves choc chip biscuits so much how many do you think she could eat, how many people dive red cars?  Try and tailor it to what you kid likes or would find funny and have a guess yourself too and get the whole family in on it.

#5 too tired to care

Posted 20 August 2019 - 06:51 AM

Quite often perfectionism is an outworking of anxiety and can be seen as avoidance or paralysis.
As pp suggested chat with the teacher and if you are both noticing this pattern of avoidance or paralysis then it might be worth chatting to child psychologist for support and strategies for the teacher, you and your child.

#6 LucyGoose

Posted 20 August 2019 - 07:11 AM

My DD, 8 yrs is also showing signs of this,  but at home only.
Doing anything she’s not perfect at,  including things she is good at.
We’re trying to manage the out bursts but it’s really difficult. I have no answers,  but will be following.


#7 blimkybill

Posted 20 August 2019 - 07:42 AM

This is quite a worrying level of perfectionism as it has the potential to greatly impact his life.

As others have said, I would keep on talking about and demonstrating how important it is to make mistakes and learn from your mistakes. Show him how this works out for you (and other family members) and talk it through as you do it. Eg:
- I think I will try something different with the recipe tonight?
- I wonder if it will work?
(You try it, something is not quite right)
- oh dear, that didn't work so well did it?
- never mind, well I have learned something new now
- next time I might try ....

Lots and lots of demonstrating this

There's a Todd Parr book called It's OK to Make Mistakes, which I quite like, it's humorous.

Also chat to his teacher as she will no doubt have strategies for perfectionists.

Maybe also give him some very low stakes challenges to learn through trial and error where the mistake is not as visible as something on paper... ie practise making mistakes verbally or with something that you can quickly mess up (eg lego) rather than just on paper, which feels more permanent.

If it were me I would probably make up some kind of big poster on the wall about the importance of learning through mistakes, make it a kind of family motto, and refer to it often. Also maybe research some famous inventors who took a while to get their inventions right. Just to help him change his thinking.

Seeing a psych for strategies may also be useful too.

#8 darcswan

Posted 20 August 2019 - 07:58 AM

Marginally reformed perfectionist here - who has often refused to do things I’m not sure I’ll succeed at.

The thing that helped me was my behaviour being pointed out and getting to the root cause  ‘you seem to get very upset trying new things... why is that?’  I was identified as ‘good’ and ‘smart’ from when I was tiny and it was very scary for me to make mistakes. I thought it would mean my mum wouldn’t love me as much and I wouldn’t be special.

You can then personify that voice, and learn to turn the volume down or challenge the voice (is that true, Karen? Is there a chance it’s not true?)

I don’t know how well that would work for young kids though, who might just clam up.

The other thing is, I still hate being watched when figuring stuff out - it’s just too much input. Maybe copy the homework to let him practice without your watchful eye?

#9 EPZ

Posted 20 August 2019 - 08:18 AM

This may not be a solution, but helped in our family with similar tendencies.

My 9 YO DD i would take learning risks,  with subjects she was confident in, but certain subjects she would already decide she was not as strong.

I started her on an instrument. It takes time and practice to build the skills to play successfully. The instrument has made more of a difference than anything I could have said to her in words.  She has learned that many mistake are made, before success. Anyone can learn, if they keep going.  It can be frustrating and sometime you need to walk away (LOL) but then you come back and make progress.  

Apart from the bonus of being about to play a violin beautifully, she has learned so much about how to manage those feeling and turn them into a positive.  I will often say if you find it hard,  just remember what it takes to play your violin and she smiles and says ... a lot of hard work! The practical lesson was good for her.

#10 rob^2

Posted 20 August 2019 - 08:30 AM

This is very similar to my 8 year old daughter.  She also gets overwhelmed by tasks such as cleaning her bedroom.  It is much more at home than at school.
School counselor diagnosed her with "performance anxiety".
GP wrote a mental health plan and referred us to a psychologist who has been AMAZING!

Some recommendations of books to read...
How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk
Raising a Secure Child

#11 Manicmum

Posted 20 August 2019 - 09:38 AM

You need to model the behaviour, for example when cooking and do something wrong, laugh and say “hmm, now how can I tackle this differently?” For example. Ensure that you don’t catastophise, explain to them what that is and think aloud to model how you deal with things.

Change the goal of the homework, instead of the most circles, change it to how many in one minute. Thereby it is not an overwhelming endless task.

He may have memorised 2x tables but does not yet understand multiplication. This takes practice. Again in this situation you can teach him how to reframe the question ok, that means I have two groups of 9, 9+9=18, or 2x anything is a double.

Goodluck


#12 CallMeFeral

Posted 20 August 2019 - 09:58 AM

I think your approach is good (re encouraging effort and mistakes), so continue that. And take it further - not just allowing mistakes, but encouraging them. Encourage him to do things 'wrong' - like have a competition to see who can colour most messily outside the lines or give every answer wrong on a page of math. I once heard of an entrepreneur whose father used to ask them to fail something every day, and would go around the table asking what they had failed at that day (or was it week).

You could check out 'helping your anxious child' by Rapee, or see a child psychologist about it.

#13 Apageintime

Posted 20 August 2019 - 10:02 AM

My son is similar. My husband took up guitar. He'd never done it before but seeing him try and have to slowly get better over time has helped my son immensely.

I am going to try and learn to knit to show my son the same process.

#14 WannabeMasterchef

Posted 20 August 2019 - 10:07 AM

I was just talking about my 8yo DD anxiety and fears about school on another thread....

Ill be following this with interest. As I said in the other thread we talk about wearing our persistence hat and how everybody finds certain things tough. I also agree with PP suggestion about whether you can approach it from a different angle.

Team sport and lots of it has been an enormous help for my DD. Focussing on having fun and enjoying everything about the sport and being part of a team, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose but its how you conduct yourself and giving it your best shot that is important.

#15 Kreme

Posted 20 August 2019 - 11:04 AM

Sounds similar to my 11yo, who still has his moments but is vastly improved.

Were you doing school homework or just activity books that you thought would interest him? If it’s the latter they can really perceive that as pressure to perform. I’d ease off and let him choose activities he genuinely enjoys.

Learning an instrument has been great for my son because they only way to improve is to practice. Being in an orchestra he can see that it only sounds beautiful when everyone is doing their bit. You don’t need to be the best player, just make sure you know your part.  Team sport is also great for the same reason, learning to work together. Cricket has been wonderful for DS because it is very technical, so again practice leads to improvement.

Do you have any perfectionist tendencies yourself? You need to work on those. I agree taking up a new hobby and letting your child see you work hard at it can be really helpful.

#16 JoanJett

Posted 20 August 2019 - 02:33 PM

Plenty of good examples listed.  What has also helped in our home is to talk about all the normal milestones of development that only happened after a long period of experimenting, mistakes, setbacks and practise - from learning to sit/crawl/walk to learning to talk. We look at old photos and videos to reinforce the concept that learning and development are lifelong endeavours.

I also talk about all the things I've had to learn and master as an adult - learning another language, learning to drive, learning new skills for work.  

There are also plenty of stories about the "accidents of discovery" in science in particular, where mistakes or mishaps actually led to further questioning or the ultimate breakthrough.  

Perfectionism can be crippling.

#17 LenaK

Posted 20 August 2019 - 06:27 PM

View Postblimkybill, on 20 August 2019 - 07:42 AM, said:

This is quite a worrying level of perfectionism as it has the potential to greatly impact his life.


I am concerned about this too.

View PostRuntotheRiver, on 20 August 2019 - 08:18 AM, said:

I started her on an instrument. It takes time and practice to build the skills to play successfully. The instrument has made more of a difference than anything I could have said to her in words.  She has learned that many mistake are made, before success. Anyone can learn, if they keep going.  It can be frustrating and sometime you need to walk away (LOL) but then you come back and make progress.  

Quite a few of you mentioned an instrument which is interesting. He has expressed an interest in playing guitar. I have been holding off because he is still finishing up his final swimming block and I am really careful about not overloading him. I can see that learning an instrument has the potential to really help him - especially when he needs alone or quiet time. I am a little afraid of the fallout in the beginning though :omg:

View PostCallMeFeral, on 20 August 2019 - 09:58 AM, said:

I think your approach is good (re encouraging effort and mistakes), so continue that. And take it further - not just allowing mistakes, but encouraging them. Encourage him to do things 'wrong' - like have a competition to see who can colour most messily outside the lines or give every answer wrong on a page of math. I once heard of an entrepreneur whose father used to ask them to fail something every day, and would go around the table asking what they had failed at that day (or was it week).

You could check out 'helping your anxious child' by Rapee, or see a child psychologist about it.

Lots of you recommended books! Thank you! I will look into them :-)

I like the idea of discussing things we did wrong too. I think we will incorporate that to the dinner table.

View PostWannabeMasterchef, on 20 August 2019 - 10:07 AM, said:


Ill be following this with interest. As I said in the other thread we talk about wearing our persistence hat and how everybody finds certain things tough. I also agree with PP suggestion about whether you can approach it from a different angle.

Team sport and lots of it has been an enormous help for my DD. Focussing on having fun and enjoying everything about the sport and being part of a team, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose but its how you conduct yourself and giving it your best shot that is important.

The persistence hat is also a great idea! They work with hats at school in the bullying program so he is already familiar with the language and concept.

He refused to take up an actual team sport because he was afraid he couldn't do it so I enrolled him in scouting. He really seems to enjoy that and from what I have seen so far the culture of the club is perfect for him. They focus on learning and trying rather than being perfect.

View PostKreme, on 20 August 2019 - 11:04 AM, said:

Do you have any perfectionist tendencies yourself? You need to work on those. I agree taking up a new hobby and letting your child see you work hard at it can be really helpful.

Its a fair question. I don't think I am a perfectionist, but I am an achiever. I am good at setting my sights on something and getting up again regardless of how many times I fail. I take up new hobbies and projects regularly to learn and challenge myself and he sees me do that - and succeed (eventually lol). He may not actually recognise how many times I fail, mess up and start again because most of the hard stuff is done while he is in bed or at school. To be honest I don't really want to engage him in those things because perhaps selfishly, they are my down time and I don't want to use them as parenting tools.  

It might however be a good idea to start a hobby or project together with him? That way we fail and succeed together and I can model the emotional and practical process of failure?

#18 bec578

Posted 24 August 2019 - 04:35 PM

DD2 (9 years old) is like this - school refers to it as "fixed mindset" and she needs to have a growth mindset




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