Things You Can Do If You Have a Perfectionist Child
What if your child is struggling with the reality of not being perfect? Here are some things that can help you and your child deal with the problem of perfectionism.
Wanting to be a perfect mother is one thing, and quite another thing is having to deal with somebody else’s perfectionism. Especially when it’s your child we’re talking about. Many factors contribute to perfectionism in children. In some cases, it’s a personality trait that they’re born with, but family dynamics also play a part.
Perfectionism is becoming harmful or a mental health disorder that includes frequent irrational thoughts on failures rigid, negative self-talk, self critical, inflexible routine experiences, disproportionate reactions over insignificant failures, inability to overcome setbacks, symptoms of anxiety, or depression, panic attacks, low-self esteem, eating disorders, and even self-harm.
Gifted children accustomed to excelling are often also perfectionistic kids.
If you often hear your child say, “I just can’t do anything right,” that’s a sure sign that you have a perfectionist child in your hand that sets impossibly high standards for themselves.
But sometimes, perfectionism can manifest itself in other aspects of your child’s life. You also have to be on the lookout for signs that your child’s perfectionism is causing social problems.
Continuum perfectionists: You may be dealing with continuum, those children who cannot glean satisfaction from their efforts due to their preset, unrealistic goals.
Socially prescribed perfectionists: A socially prescribed perfectionist believes that others have incredibly high expectations of them, so they feel intense pressure from society or their loved ones to always be seen as “perfect.” They can perceive this pressure as coming from their parents, coaches, or teachers.
In this article, we’ll talk about:
- How to tell if you have a perfectionist child?
- Three types of perfectionism
- How to help your child deal with perfectionism
How to tell if your child is a perfectionist
Not sure if you have a perfectionist child?
Ask yourself: Is your child apprehensive about disappointing their teachers? Or do they have that tendency of pushing themselves past their limits simply because they couldn’t accept anything less than perfect?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, you have a perfectionist child.
It might seem like a rare case, but do you know that perfectionism is quite common among kids? In fact, a recent study conducted on children aged 8-11 shows that a staggering 80% of the subjects have exhibited perfectionist kids.
A lot of kids are worried about making mistakes. And that’s most likely because of the consequences they associate with falling short of other people’s standards.
So, before we talk about what you can do to help your child overcome their fear of making mistakes, let’s first talk about the three types of perfectionism common among kids. By understanding the reason behind your perfectionist kid’s tendencies, we can figure out a more effective way to help them overcome this challenge.
Three types of perfectionism in children
It’s normal for us parents to have high expectations for our children, but it’s also crucial for us to help them understand that it’s human to make mistakes. But getting that message across can be tricky, especially if we don’t understand the reason behind their perfectionism.
Thankfully, child development experts have shed light on this matter.
So here are the three types of perfectionism:
This type of perfectionism is rooted in one’s desire to meet the impossibly high expectations they’ve set for themselves. Children with this type of perfectionism are highly-motivated to succeed but respond to any signs of failure badly. For example, they may get distraught over a single mistake in their test results.
Whereas a person’s impossibly high standards trigger internally-driven perfectionism for themselves, externally-driven perfectionism is triggered by other people’s expectations. These expectations may either be real or assumed, but they have the same stressful effect on someone with this type of perfectionism.
Children who have this type of perfectionism are easily upset even with the slightest failures because they feel they have disappointed their parents the moment they made that mistake.
Individuals who fall under this category find themselves triggered by internal and external factors.
Your child may have mixed perfectionist tendencies if they are hard on themselves, setting impossibly high standards that they struggle to meet. At the same time, they also excessively fear disappointing people they believe have very high expectations for them.
Now that we’ve discussed the three main types of perfectionism, you’re probably wondering: Is it really wrong to have high expectations for your children?
The short answer is NO. It’s not wrong to hold high expectations for your children.
That is to be expected from us parents since we want our kids to be at their best at all times. And research also shows that children tend to perform better at school when they know their parents expect them to do well with their studies.
So when does it become wrong?
It becomes wrong when your child begins to associate their achievements with your affection and love. When they start believing that you love them more for their accomplishments rather than for who they are as a person, that’s when the real problem starts.
Next thing you know, your kid becomes too scared to make mistakes, thinking that any form of failure would cause irreversible damage to the relationship they have with you.
So how can you help your child overcome that fear?
How to Help Your Perfectionist Kid Overcome Perfectionism
Perfectionism is not an easy tendency to overcome. But it’s very much possible that your child can beat their fear of failure. So what can you do about it?
Don't be a perfectionist yourself
Now this one’s easier said than done, to be honest. Because if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that we can be our own worst enemies at times too. But you see, kids have a knack for picking up traits from their parents. So if your kids see that you’re hard on yourself, then they’ll most likely be the same on themselves too.
If you feel that your children have picked up your perfectionist tendencies, then the best way to help them overcome perfectionism is to show them that you’re working on overcoming this yourself. Admit to making your own mistakes. Model perseverance when faced with a difficult task. Use constructive coping skills when dealing with disappointments.
If your child feels you expect perfection, they will strive to be “perfect” to gain your approval. Avoid using the word “perfect” altogether, even as praise. Problem-solving teaches kids how to handle their own perfectionism now and into adulthood, even when no one else is there to offer guidance.
For example, the next time you make a mistake, learn to acknowledge it and then move on. That will teach your kids that it’s normal to make a mistake and that the best thing they need to do when they make one is simply to learn from it and then move on.
Be careful with the way you react to your child's mistakes
A child scared of making mistakes simply because they feel it will make you love them less would be quick to sense your disappointment when they do something wrong.
So if you discern that your child has attached their sense of worth with their accomplishments, it’s time for you to double-check the way you react every time they make a mistake. Teach them to challenge that inner voice or stop listening to it.
Does your body language convey the same message that you’re saying? Do your nonverbal cues really show that you’re okay with them making mistakes? Being mindful of the way you react will help ease their fears of making mistakes in the future.
Also, do your best to support your children, especially when they’re faced with a difficult task. By letting them know and feel your support, they’ll understand that you will be there for them, no matter the task’s outcome.
Be careful with how you praise your child
How you word your commendations when your children accomplish something can also affect how they associate your affection with their achievements.
For example, if your words of praise are usually generic, such as “You’re so smart! I’m so proud of you!” then they may assume that you’re only proud of them because they’ve proven themselves intellectually capable.
To help your perfectionist child, you start to say things like – “Stop crying. Take a deep breath. Let’s work through this together.” “It’s no big deal. Here. Look. I’ll fix it for you.” “Relax! If you stop worrying and crying so much, you’d be able to think and figure it out.” “There’s nothing to worry about. You’ll get it.
However, if you keep your praises specific and process-oriented, such as,
“I’m proud of you for doing your best in the competition,”
You highlight the fact that it’s not about their achievements. It’s about the efforts they put into doing something.
When they understand this important difference, they’re less likely to be focused on impossibly high goals and will instead work on putting in more effort into whatever it is they’re doing.
This leads to your kid being more persistent in the face of challenges simply because they understand that success is not dependent on a particular trait.
Remind your children of how much you love them
Of course, you love your children, but how often do you tell them that? Sometimes we take those words for granted or think that it’s not necessary to express them to them often when they obviously should feel that you love them.
If that’s how you feel, remember: When it comes to reminding your kids of your unconditional love for them, there’s no such thing as too much.
Reassure them that you love them for who they are, no matter how flawed they may be. Do this, especially when your kids are not doing well, or they’ve failed at some aspect of their lives.
That way, they’ll know for sure that they don’t have to be perfect just to be worthy of your love. They just have to be themselves, which is already going to be enough for you.
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