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Goal setting to fix feeling like a failure

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Hi there

My son lost his way a bit this year and he’s worried about his NCEA Level 2 results. He thinks he won’t have enough credits to get into uni when he finishes school. He told me he feels like a total failure. Sure, he got into his sports and social life too much, but I don’t want him to feel that way, when he just made a mistake. He can probably make his credits up next year, but how do I help him keep on track and not be so hard on himself?

Not the end of the world, Otara

Dear Not the end of the world

It must be hard to watch your son feel like a complete failure, when he's just made a mistake that can be fixed.

What’s positive is that your son feels he can talk to you about his problem, and your response has been calm and thoughtful. Parents who take a blame-free, problem-solving approach to their young person’s mistakes grow resilient adults who cope with challenges without feeling like failures.

Here’s how to work with your son to help him feel better and take responsibility for his actions. 

Three steps to coping with feeling like a failure

When your young person feels like a failure, find time to talk when you’re both relaxed.

1. Reflection

Have your young person reflect on everything they’ve achieved this year. It could be as little as putting the rubbish out each week or as much as getting their driver's licence. Make a list. Tell your young person that from the list you can see, for example, that they’ve developed lots of skills employers want, achieved some of their goals and helped people. 

2. Shared problem solving

Next, ask your young person, “What can we do about this problem?” Brainstorm some ideas and get them to rank the best ones. Then ask them to commit to action.

3. Reassurance and check in

Finally, reassure your young person that everyone makes mistakes – it doesn't mean they fail at everything, and a mistake doesn't define them as a person. Coping with mistakes is the key to success and if they need help they can talk to you. Check in occasionally to see if they're taking action.

Goals to get your young person on track

Goal setting can help your young person bounce back from feeling like a failure and help them stay motivated at school.

Encourage your young person to list goals for the next year such as "complete my NCEA Level 3 credits". Then apply the SMARTER system of goal setting:

S = Specific (I want to get all my NCEA Level 3 credits)

M = Measurable (I got all my NCEA Level 3 credits)

A = Achievable (I can get all my credits in one year)

R = Relevant (I need my credits to get into university)

T = Timed (I need my credits by the end of the year)

E = Evaluated (By my teachers and NZQA)

R = Reviewed (I will check with my teachers how I’m going during the year).

Your young person can use our career plan to record goals and make plans so that next year they stay on top of their school work.

Get more Q & A articles

Our Q & A series of career tips answers common questions parents have about their young person's work and learning choices.