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Atichyphobia: Are We Setting Up Our Kids for Failure?

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No parent wants to see their kids fail in school but are we setting them up for it by inducing atichyphobia? Are we making our kids fear failure?

Everyone has a right to fear failure but, there’s a point when that fear becomes irrational and intense. Known as atichyphobia, the intense fear of failure can be crippling. It prevents many people from trying new things or being more open-minded. But where does the fear come from? A lot of times, this kind of fear manifests when confronted with academic performance. Or, the dreaded school grades.

It all starts with the fear of Report Card Day

Every student hates report card day. Nobody wants to see a “C” or what many jokingly call the “Asian F” on their kids’ report cards. Some would say “B” is “pasang awa” or passing by the skin of one’s teeth. While there’s no shame in being a bit “grade conscious“, there’s also a fine line when it becomes too much. The fear, unfortunately, translates when these kids become adults, fearing even failure in the workplace. Moreover, this kind of fear triggers an unhealthy fear of accountability, leading to toxic behaviors such as gaslighting.

Do grades really matter?

Many of the older generations will argue that grades are a reflection of one’s work ethic and virtue and thus, do matter. However, some parents as well as studies are revealing the problems with grades and how it’s based on a standardized form of testing. Some even say that the grades are not an “actual reflection of the kids’ knowledge”. Rather, it’s a reflection of their test-taking ability. This may explain why some kids, despite their average grades, become more successful than those who aced their exams. Some don’t do well with multiple choice, identification, etc. Some do better with something more hands-on.

READ: Parents Explain Why They’re Grade Conscious

Signs and Symptoms of Atichyphobia or Fear of Failure in Kids and Adults

Oftentimes, the trigger of these responses involves mistakes, being called out for mistakes in public, or a letter or number associated with failure. Signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Chronic lying. Kids eventually carry this ability into adulthood as a survival mechanism. Kids and adults often do this especially due to mistakes dealt with disproportionate punishments.
  • Crying breakdowns and meltdowns. Meltdowns and breakdowns are a result of the mind feeling “emotionally cornered” like a rat that’s about to get shot. This often occurs when parents yell at their kids while backing them into a physical corner. This may lead to other fears such as monophobia (fear of being alone), nyctophobia (fear of the dark), and claustrophobia (fear of tight spaces).
  • Palpitations. The most common symptom, both kids and adults can have this when something goes wrong because there’s a realization that there’s no control or there’s an anticipation of severe punishment. It eventually evolves into severe stomach aches. Some even develop hives.
  • Self-inflicted injuries. When kids fear failure, they punish themselves thinking that it’s something their parents will do anyway. Other times, the sudden increase of emotional stress can result in kids resorting to impulsive self-destructive behavior because the energy has nowhere to go. This can be in the form of hitting themselves, scratching their arms, or worst-case scenario: slitting their wrists with any sharp object within range. Unfortunately, many kids have succumbed to their wounds because of this.

However, these don’t manifest immediately. It takes a constant repetition of an action to condition kids to fear failure.

How do parents promote that fear of failure or Atichyphobia in kids?

Many parents have an ideal image of what they want their kids to be and always want their kids to do their best. But when the expectation isn’t met, it causes conflict. Especially in families who favor an authoritarian style of parenting, even the slightest slip in grades by 1 or 2 points can escalate into an intense drama. Other ways that parents may (subconsciously) promote that fear of failure in kids can include:

  • Forcing them into a tutorial they don’t actually need. Some parents force their kids to go to daily Math tutorials in hopes of getting their kids to be more advanced than their classmates.
  • Disproportionate reactions to their achievements and failures. Rarely do parents celebrate achievements but when it comes to academic failures, it’s either a yelling, a sermon, a slipper, belt, disownment, or all of the above.
  • Bullying the teachers. Yes, some parents do bully teachers to make sure their kids’ report cards are pristine but, it actually makes the kid fear failure. They’ll end up thinking that mom and dad will always be there to solve the problem when that’s not the case.
  • Making their older siblings do their homework. Rampant during homeschooling and the pandemic, parents often “bully” their older siblings to do the younger siblings’ homework. If the older siblings don’t comply, there’s punishment. It often creates resentment and rivalry between the two siblings. But it also makes the younger one not feel confident with themselves and fear failure.
  • “My way or the high way” approach to grades. Perfectionism can kill anyone’s motivation to learn something new. It narrows the learning pathway into just one when there are many ways to learn something.

How Parents and Kids Can Unlearn That Fear of Failure

Unlearning that fear of failure needs to be an effort from both the parents and the kids. It also means being aware of one’s triggers, especially with mistakes and misbehavior. A lot of parents’ escalated or bad reactions to misbehavior can be traced all the way to childhood when their own parents lashed out at them for the slightest misstep. Unfortunately, the damage is already done when parents come across that epiphany. But that doesn’t mean it should be left to fester.

READ: How to Not Get Triggered By Your Child’s Misbehaviors

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