Perfectionism: the unrealistic goals and standards we place on ourselves to achieve in order to be seen as good. Striving to “do it all” is admirable in our society. We value competition, good grades, coloring in the lines, and high achievement. While all desirable outcomes, the drive for the end product can come at a price. It takes a toll on our mental health, work and school, and relationships. We also miss the character building and life lessons that come with being mindfulness through the process.
As parents, caregivers, and educators, we know children look to and replicate the behaviors and attitudes of their primary caregivers. As adults, we need to be assessing our own values and beliefs surrounding achieving. In seemingly small negative events (e.g. burning dinner, being late, getting a flat tire), we have opportunities to model how to manage setbacks and deal with emotions. We can either react negatively when things don’t go our way or choose to respond in a way that illustrates it is okay not to have everything perfect. Modeling healthy behaviors is often key for supporting your child’s healthy mental and emotional development.
Symptoms of Perfectionism in your Child
Perfectionism shows up differently in every child, however, it’s good to note some of the most common characteristics, which include:
- Sensitive to criticism
- Difficulty making decisions
- Fear of failure
- Critical of other people
- Struggles to finish tasks
If you’re noticing symptoms of perfectionism in your child, there are always opportunities to teach valuable lessons. Parents can help facilitate a child’s process by using communication skills that promote qualities of one’s character rather than the product. Using affirmation statements instead of, or in addition to, praise is a great tool to emphasize process/character building vs. outcome/success. Here are some examples of affirmation vs. praise statements.
|“You were determined to finish that picture by yourself, and you did.”||“That picture looks great.”|
|“That was thoughtful of you to hold the door.”||“Good job holding the door.”|
|“You showed a lot of patience with your little sister.”||“You’re an awesome sister.”|
Affirmation and praise both have value. When children hear only praise, they begin equating their value to their achievement. In addition to using affirmation statements, here are other ways to help your child cope with their anxiety and perfectionistic tendencies.
Top 10 Ways to Help your Perfectionist Child
1. Refrain from comparison statements.
2. Use affirming character statements.
3. Teach healthy coping skills: journal writing, positive self-talk, drawing pictures of feelings.
4. Model making mistakes and responding kindly to self.
5. Teach breaking down projects into small more manageable tasks.
6. Work on a task together to model perseverance and managing emotions.
7. Help your child understand emotions the drives perfection (what are they worried would happen if they failed)?
8. Provide a supportive and structured environment.
9. Be aware of your expectations on your child.
10. Incorporate play for you and your child together weekly.
When to seek professional help?
If you child is not responding to coping skills at home and continues to have a high degree of anxiety to perform well, there are people who can help. At The Oas Center in San Diego, trained therapists are skilled at working with children through their struggles in order to have a sense of peace and a successful life.
- How can I help my child with perfectionism?
Parents/caregivers and educators can help children with perfectionism by cultivating environments that allow the child to be themselves without comparing them to other children. When your child is exhibiting perfectionistic behaviors, it is important to allow your child to express how they feel (anxious, frustrated, or sad) and validate that emotion. You can help children by giving them tangible tools such as prioritizing and utilizing relaxation techniques.
2. Is perfectionism a disorder?
Perfectionism is not listed in the DSM-5 as a mental health disorder. Perfectionism can lead to other disorders such as; obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and social anxiety.
3. What causes perfectionism anxiety?
Unrealistic goals and standards for oneself causes an increase of anxiety. Some people have more anxiety when they are trying to live up to a high standard than cannot be met. They often compare themselves with others and are judgmental of themselves for their shortcomings.
4. What causes perfectionism?
There are many contributing factors to perfectionism. Children often learn perfectionistic tendencies from the modeling of parents or academic pressure. A perfectionist will often feel valued because of what they do for other people or obtaining success.
5. Is perfectionism a symptom of ADHD?
Perfectionism and ADHD can share symptoms. For example, overthinking problems, situations, or tasks. Someone with perfectionism may not be able to move forward until the task feels perfect, while someone with ADHD may struggle in changing focus.
6. Is perfectionism genetic?
Research shows both environmental and genetic factors play a role in perfectionism. Parenting styles are environmental influences that have substantial impact on a child’s perception about themselves. Parents who are more critical and have high standards, often have children who exhibit perfectionistic characteristics.