Defining a Child’s Failure Through Achievement Environments

There is always a concern when children do not respond well to mistakes and failures they endure.  How they face failure and how they define failure is more significant than the difficult decision of determining if children should or should not experience failure.

Parents, teachers, and educators need to create achievement environments in which failure is not the end all, but becomes an opportunity for further learning and experience.

Looking at the trend toward high-stakes and mandatory testing within the education culture, a lot of controversy stems from the research and advocacy of motivation and self-regulation experts.

Unfortunately, these mandates many times stir up the do-or-die, fight-or-flight emotions and fears of failure within the K-12 education system.  They make creating achievement environments very difficult, due to the pressures and emotions they stir up within students, teachers, administration, and parents.

This is where overbearing and competitive parenting that focuses too strongly on childhood successes can become a slippery slope.  When success is emphasized to an unhealthy degree, the child may not respond well to potential failure now or in the future.

This fight-or-flight instinct may also turn into unhealthy cognitive and emotional growth due to the pressure placed on the child, as unhealthy, continuous levels of adrenaline may cause mental health issues and detract from the child’s ability to react to failures he will experience in life.

The child may develop a negative view of his or her own self-worth due to his inexperience handling failure, and may have an inability to control the emotional and physical reactions he experiences when failure occurs.

The feedback from failure does not have to be negative, but should become a learning experience.

The goal is to make the experience of failure as a learning experience for a child, and not an event that provides the child with a loss of self-worth. The ability to fear failure starts very early in childhood and is something that, for many, can be very hard to overcome.



Brophy, J.  (2004). Motivating students to learn (2nd edition).  New York: Erlbaum.

Ratey, J.  (2007). Keynote part I: Spark: The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain cognition.  On Learning and the Brain Conference [CD]. Cambridge, MA: Learning and the Brain Society.

Schunk, D. H., Pintrich, P. R., & Meece, J. L.  (2008). Motivation in education: Theory, research, and applications (3rd ed.).  Columbia, OH: Pearson.

Schunk, D. H. & Zimmerman, B.J.  (2008). Motivation and self-regulated learning: Theory, research and applications.  Mahwah, NJ: Routledge.

Leave a Reply