Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash
Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

Fear of Failure


Our 17-year-old son is obsessed with a fear of failure.  So much so that he is withdrawing from normal activities and afraid to try new things.  How can we help him?


No parent wants to see their child overwhelmed by the shame and embarrassment of failure.  We want our kids to be successful.  So with good intentions many parents do homework and class projects for their kids, and make decision for them and “protect” them so that they can “succeed” in life.

The tragic reality is that when we shield our kids from failure we are also shielding them from invaluable life-lessons that are essential for growth and maturity.  We are raising kids who may go through life crippled by their fear of failure and inability to learn from mistakes.

One of the greatest gifts you’ll ever give your son is the gift of how to value and learn from his mistakes.  Start by sharing some of your “best” mistakes and what you learned from them.  Open your Bible and show him some of the many stories of people who did stupid and sinful things, and the different outcomes of those who learned and those who didn’t.

Whenever possible, avoid solving and resist rescuing, even when he makes mistakes or choices that weren’t the best.  Reward the risks he takes by acknowledging his courage.  Congratulate him when he succeeds but be even more enthusiastic when he learns from a failure.  You can help him understand that the ultimate failure is the inability to learn from our mistakes.

You can help him learn to look at failure through the lens of Scripture. In John 10:10 Christ said, “I have come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly.”  In Ephesians 3:20 Paul describes God as one who wants to do “exceedingly abundantly beyond all we ask or think.”  In Philippians 4:13 Paul tells us that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.  Those are great promises.  And they are true.

Anything that is painful or makes us feel unworthy—mistakes, setbacks, selfishness, anger, cruelty, memories of injury or abuse—can be the fodder for feelings of failure OR provide the raw materials for a stronger foundation and the opportunity to see God do some of His best work.

You’ll have fun watching him discover the amazing truth that what initially seems to be a setback may be just the opposite.  What apart from God feels like a failure can, in His skilled hands become a part of His provision for our growth.  A theology of failure is an essential ingredient of growth and maturity and will equip him to be and become the kind of man God has designed him to be.

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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