7 Ways Parents Can Help Their Child Overcome Perfectionism

by | May 28, 2024 | Uncategorized

As a parent, you want your child to succeed and do their best. However, some children and teens can set unrealistically high standards for themselves. When they don’t perform perfectly, they may put themself down, give up, or avoid challenges or new experiences for fear of failing.

Perfectionistic tendencies can be exhausting and may prevent your child or teen from enjoying activities and learning.

However, parents can help children and teens overcome perfectionism and foster a healthy mindset towards success and achievement instead.

What is perfectionism in children?

Perfectionism is associated with setting extremely high standards of achievement and excellence for themselves and having a strong fear of making mistakes or failing. These perfectionistic high standards are often so high that they can not be met or are only met with great stress and difficulty. The drive can lead to self-defeating thoughts and behaviours if the expectations of perfection are unrealistic.

Positive versus negative perfectionism

Some people strive for high levels of achievement and success but can manage their behaviour and reactions, such as not being hard on themselves if they don’t achieve the goal. This type of perfectionism is often called positive or adaptive perfectionism.

Negative perfectionism is motivated more by trying to avoid failure or making mistakes. It often involves setting unrealistic and high expectations across all situations. Additionally, the person may be overly self-critical and minimize their accomplishments and successes.

How perfectionism can impact your child

Negative perfectionism can cause children to struggle at school, home, and socially. Setting overly high standards and unrealistic expectations can contribute to a less healthy mindset for children and teens.

Instead, this maladaptive way of thinking and acting can have detrimental effects on their well-being and mental health, contributing to self-doubts, anxiety, holding themselves back, and feeling overwhelmed. For instance, children and teens with perfectionist tendencies often have unrealistic expectations, put too much pressure on themselves, and struggle to accept their mistakes.

Perfectionism can hold your child back by:

  • Increasing self-defeating and negative thoughts
  • Preventing your child or teen from trying new things
  • Reducing the quality of their work or performance
  • Contributing to procrastination, indecision, and overwhelm
  • Increasing stress, burnout, and self-criticism
  • Straining relationships with peers and friends
  • Withdrawing from social activities

Signs your child may be struggling with perfectionism

Recognizing the signs of perfectionism in children is essential for parents to provide the necessary support and intervention.

Some common signs that your child may be struggling with perfectionism include:

  • Anxiety and fear of making mistakes: Perfectionistic children often experience excessive worry and anxiety about making even the smallest mistakes. They may become highly anxious, angry, or upset when they make a mistake or fail to meet their own standards.
  • Procrastination and difficulty completing tasks: Perfectionistic children may struggle with procrastination as they fear that they won’t be able to complete a task perfectly. They may spend excessive amounts of time on tasks, trying to make them perfect, which can lead to a lack of productivity and frustration.
  • Minimize enjoyment of life and constant self-criticism: Children with perfectionistic tendencies may struggle to find joy in their achievements because they are constantly focused on what could have been done better. They may engage in self-critical thoughts and have a negative self-image.
  • Avoidance of new things and risk-taking: Perfectionistic children often avoid trying new things or taking risks because they are afraid of making mistakes or failing. They prefer to stick to what they know they can do perfectly, limiting their growth and exploration.
  • Minimize their accomplishments: Children with perfectionist tendencies are more likely to minimize compliments or downplay their successes. For example, they may feel upset if they got a 90% on a test instead of a 100%.
  • Excessively double checking their work: Perfectionists’ desire to get everything right can cause them to spend a lot of time double (and triple) checking their work, potentially causing them to take too long on tasks or feeling frustrated by how long it takes to get things done.
  • Struggling to cope with setbacks: Perfectionists may struggle to deal with perceived or real setbacks and failures because it is seen as a proof of personal inadequacy.

By recognizing these signs, parents can intervene early and provide the necessary support to help their child overcome perfectionism.

7 Ways parents can help their child overcome unhealthy perfectionism

Unhealthy levels of perfectionism can be unlearned. Taking time to talk to your child or teen about the pros and cons of perfectionism can help.

Here are some additional ways parents can help their child or teen do their personal best without focusing on being perfect.

1. Encourage high achievement instead of perfectionism.

Managing perfectionistic tendencies doesn’t mean your child or teen should set low standards. Instead, the focus is on finding a healthy balance of striving to do their personal best without emphasizing or expecting perfection.

High achievers typically set high standards, have a good work ethic, and want to do their best. Their strive for excellence is a strength of character. But unlike perfectionists, they enjoy the process and don’t view setbacks or mistakes as failure. Instead, they see it as an opportunity to learn. They are also more likely to take healthy risks, try tasks outside their comfort zone, value constructive criticism, and explore creative solutions to problems.

You can encourage high achievement instead of perfectionism by:

  • Avoiding using the word “perfect” even when offering praise
  • Helping your child or teen learn how to set realistic goals and standards that can be achieved with effort
  • Help your child celebrate their successes

2. Help them feel more comfortable with making mistakes.

Mistakes are going to happen, and that’s okay. In fact, mistakes are often a sign that you’re trying hard or pushing yourself.

Remind your child or teen that mistakes are expected and are a part of learning and life.

Some additional tips include:

  • Letting them know it’s okay to say, “I don’t know”
  • Modeling non-perfectionistic behaviours and statements
  • Helping them get comfortable with imperfection.
  • Practice realistic thinking by replacing self-critical statements with more balanced thoughts. For example, “Making a mistake does not mean I am stupid, I am learning. All I can do is my best.”

3. Encourage a growth mindset.

Many perfectionists engage in unhelpful thinking styles and negative self-talk. They may be overly self-critical or have a more fixed mindset regarding aspects of themselves, like their talents, abilities, intelligence, or personality. They may tell themselves, “I can’t” or “I’ll never be able to.”

However, people with a growth mindset focus more on the possibilities of growth, the benefits of effort, and that they can keep improving and changing over time [1]. They often focus more on the process and find joy in activities, even if they aren’t the best or perfect.

You can help encourage a growth mindset by encouraging your child or teen to:

  • View themself as a learner
  • Focus on the process
  • Acknowledge their effort
  • Try new things and interests for the joy or to grow, without pressuring themselves to get something new “right”

Additionally, you can help your child or teen learn how to challenge perfectionistic thoughts, negative self-talk, and self-criticism by:

  • Acknowledging what they did well, even in situations where they may not have gotten the outcome they wanted
  • Identifying specific situations where the negative self-statement wasn’t true
  • Incorporating the word “yet” into their self-talk, such as “I may not know how to play guitar chords yet, but I’m practicing daily and will continue to improve.”

4. Model how to handle mistakes or setbacks.

Modeling how you manage mistakes is a powerful tool. By acknowledging your setbacks and mistakes, you are showing your child or teen that mistakes are a natural part of life and nothing to fear or be ashamed of.

When sharing mistakes or setbacks you’ve experienced, show or talk with them about how you handled it. Use this opportunity to show them how you use positive statements and a flexible mindset to work through setbacks and learn from mistakes.

5. Praise effort over the outcome.

Perfectionistic kids put too much pressure on themselves, often to the point where it’s holding them back and interfering with their ability to get things done. So, instead of focusing on the outcome, grade, or achievement, praise their effort or actions like trying something new or outside their comfort zone.

6. Help them build resilience.

Resilient children and teens typically handle and recover from life’s challenges and setbacks well overall. Developing strong resilience skills can help your child or teen be well-adjusted and successful throughout their life.

Resilience skills can be learned. Some strategies parents can use to build resilience in children and teens  include:

  • Developing effective coping skills
  • Modeling open, nonjudgmental communication habits
  • Helping your child accept and process change, setbacks, and uncertainties

7. Knowing when something is “good enough.”

Identifying when a task is “good enough” helps your child or teen avoid spending too much time on a task. Help them strive towards getting tasks done rather than perfect. This can help them avoid procrastinating on daunting tasks and may reduce fears of failure.

Sources

  1. Dweck CS, Yeager DS. (2019). Mindsets: A View From Two Eras. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 14(3), 481-496. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1745691618804166