Fear of failure in the Art Room is so common it rarely surprises us. It makes regular appearances in students of all ages, some more than others, but no one’s immune.
Fear of failure can chip away at self-confidence and stifle creativity. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Students can overcome this toxic adversary by recognizing it, reframing it, and then taming it.
Recognizing ‘fear of failure’
No one wants to look foolish in front of others, feel judged, or sense the rejection they imagine goes with that. Especially kids.
Some students develop perfectionist tendencies, thinking that perfection will spare them these experiences. And perfectionism often leads to procrastination, another unhealthy way we try to avoid these negative feelings. Difficulty starting or finishing projects are signs that may also signal fear of failure.
Fearing a potential failure can be so subconscious that kids may not be aware of what’s causing their feelings. We can help them put a name to what they’re feeling by talking about it when we see those telltale signs.
Reframing ‘fear of failure’
There are lots of ways to encourage your students to adopt a healthy attitude toward failure, rather than fearing it. Embracing mistakes with a growth mindset is a great place to start.
We can create a classroom culture of risk-taking and learning when students see us laugh at our own mistakes, and take responsibility without blaming or making excuses. Seeing failure as an opportunity to learn, rather than an obstacle, is key.
Remind kids that they’ve already overcome lots of failures while learning to walk, talk, and ride a bike. In all of these cases, failure was just a mid-point, not the end point. The important thing is to keep trying.
If you fail, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure, it just means you failed that time. Failure doesn’t mean you can’t do it, it just means you can’t do it yet.
Students often fear what others will think… of their artwork and of them. So remind kids that other people’s opinions don’t determine their worth. They don’t have to do something well in order to feel good about themselves.
But still, it’s easy for students to feel personally criticized when their work is criticised. Separating themselves from their work is an important step.
Another helpful response to fear, coined by author and speaker, Mel Robbins, is to reframe that anxious feeling to being “excited” instead. Then students will gain confidence every time they push through their fear and take action.
Taming “fear of failure’
As mentioned earlier, students with fear of failure often have a hard time getting started on projects. Learning to break their assignments into manageable steps will give them a valuable life skill they can use far into the future.
Occasionally, a student may not ‘connect’ with a given project. When that happens and the only way out of a project is through it, getting started will at least help get them there!
Another way to tame fear of failure is to include some limitations in your assignments. A limitation could be the medium to use, the subject, a specific problem to solve, or any restriction students have to work with. While unlimited options may seem appealing at first, too many options can easily overwhelm many students.
But sometimes, despite your best efforts, fear can get the best of a student, preventing them from taking action on a project. When this happens it can help to ask, “What’s the worst that could happen?” This is more than just a rhetorical question. Having to actually answer this question can prove to an anxious student that potential benefits outweigh any likely risks.
an inspiring quote:
“Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.” ~ Jon Sinclair
Sometimes a good object lesson is all that’s needed to really make a point stick. If students think of their failures as bruises, as temporary discomforts that fade away, it may help to lessen their fear of them.
a question to consider:
What are some other examples you can share with your students of how they have failed but kept trying until they succeeded?