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Perfectionism in Children

We love it when we see our children striving to be the very best they can be, but how do we know when that goes too far? Children who aim to be perfect in every way are often stressed and worried, leaving them unhappy if something doesn’t go quite right. It’s our job to remind children that there is no such thing as “perfect” and that nobody was born an expert. Mistakes are part of life, but how to convince your child that? Here are some tips on how to recognize and help the child perfectionist.

How to Tell if Your Child is a Perfectionist

There are a few obvious signs that point to your child being a perfectionist:

They set themselves high standards – You may notice your child setting themselves unrealistic goals. This is especially evident in teenagers who sign up for difficult classes and beat themselves up if they haven’t got 100% on an assignment. They spend hours on projects to get it “right.” Some kids, if they consistently well in school, feel that they are known as the smart ones, and anything that isn’t above-average is seen as a failure.

They criticize themselves – Children who don’t perform to their ridiculously high standards will be the first to blame themselves. This can come in the form of self-deprecation and withdraw themselves away in some sort of shame.

Procrastinating on projects – A child who knows they have to complete a task may wait until the very last minute to do it, then frantically try to finish it all. This is because they tend to focus on every single little detail to make sure everything is right. It is the stress of the project they are avoiding. Unfortunately, this leads to even more stress and long nights trying to finish everything.

Not flexible on tasks – If your child gets stressed out during a task and has a meltdown over something gone not quite right, they may be a perfectionist. If you notice this, then keep a log of when it happens and what activity was taking place. Rule out environmental factors as well as things like tiredness and being hungry.

The dramatic change in behavior – Many child perfectionists have an all or nothing attitude. They give everything their best, but if they feel like they can’t they may just give up and withdraw due to disappointment within themselves, causing a complete shift in behavior. This can lead to depression if they feel like they have been a failure.

How Perfectionism Can Affect Children

Other than those tell-tale signs, perfectionism has a very big emotional and social impact. It can promote low self-esteem and anxiety. It will also have a negative impact on relationships with other children and even family members. The stress can have horrible mental and physical side-effects.

What Can Be Done?

Parents need to do their best to get their children to realize that everything will be okay, no matter the outcome.

We can encourage this in a few ways. The first is to try new things together. Go out of the comfort zone, and try something for the very first time. If you do it together, you may give them the courage they need to go along with it. This may be trying a new sport or activity. If things don’t go “perfect,” that’s okay. This activity will show you can still have a good time (and in turn, a good, happy life) nonetheless.

Talk to your child about their worries. Although this may seem upsetting, the better you understand their feelings, the better you will be able to help them. Exposure therapy is said to help – that is getting them to face their fears. This may take a while (and a LOT of convincing), but things seem better if you offer to tackle problems head-on together.

Try to get your child to think of it from another perspective. Ask him or her, “How do you think Dad would react if he got a little crayon outside the lines?” or “What would your friend say if she got a couple answers wrong on the test?” Remember, this isn’t about comparing, but simply seeing it from someone else’s point of view and then pointing out that everything, despite a couple answers wrong or a broken pencil, is still okay!

Above all, let your child know that mistakes are part of life. They may not quite understand the phrase “To err is human,” but try to explain it in a way he or she will understand. Mistakes are part of life. We are meant to make mistakes, so we learn. Nobody was born an expert in anything.

Is your child a perfectionist? What do you do to help reassure them?



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