How to Deal With a Child Who is a Perfectionist
Are you trying to deal with a child who is a perfectionist?
Your kids are up all night working on a simple homework assignment. They agonize over grades like 89 or A-. They feel like a failure if one person in their class got a higher score than them on an exam. They anguish over whether or not teachers notice their hard work. Welcome to the world of perfectionism. How do you deal with a child who is a perfectionist?
Being a perfectionist can be more damaging than you might think. These kids often burn out long before they make it to college. They often have lower self-esteem than their peers, even though their performance is far superior.
So how do you deal with a child who is a perfectionist? How do you help them reach their full potential without such self-criticism?
Set Reasonable Expectations
Often children who strive for perfection are well, pretty perfect. This can cause a vicious cycle. As you get used to your child’s perfection, you expect perfection. As you expect perfection, children feel the burden to give perfection.
I often hear comments like, “I expect straight A’s because I know she is capable of it.” That may be true, but placing such high expectations on a child can lead to stress, helplessness and an eventual loss of motivation.
Help Them Change Perspective
Help your children develop a realistic view of success. Many perfectionistic kids are gifted and/or talented. They are used to being the best. Often as kids get older they are placed in higher level classes/teams and they aren’t always the best anymore.
I always tell kids, “No matter how good you are, there is always someone better and someone worse than you.” Help them set up their own self-improvement goals that don’t revolve around where they stand against other people.
Highlight the Benefit of Failure
Perfectionistic kids do not realize that failure is an integral part of success. When we struggle, we strive to do better. Often it is out of failure that our best work is produced. I love telling kids how Thomas Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb before he finally succeeded. He didn’t see it as 1,000 failures – he saw it as 1,000 steps. That is how we should have our children view failure.
Model Non-Perfectionistic Behavior
Sometimes the apple doesn’t fall far from the perfect tree. You can’t expect your kids to not be a perfectionist if you are the same way. There is a difference between being a go-getter and being a perfectionist.
A go-getter stumbles, falls, gets up and keeps on going. A perfectionist sees every flaw, every failure. They are paralyzed by the possibility of imperfection.
Show your kids that you mess up. Show them you learn from your mistakes and move on. Don’t verbally beat yourself up about flaws and imperfections – your kids are watching. Talk to your kids about how it is not the end result, but the effort along the way that is truly impressive.
Helping a perfectionist takes time. Praise your children when they show great effort, regardless of the outcome. Talk about traits that you love in your children that aren’t performance related. Taking the perfectionist out of a child isn’t going to make the child a failure, it is going to guarantee that child’s success.
Helpful books on the topic: