7 Tips for Curbing Perfectionism in Your Child

little girl painting
Image via Katie Hurley

While some parents are so worn out from the nightly battle to sit and get the homework done that they would do just about anything to have a motivated, self-starter who genuinely seems to enjoy the work, it’s important to remember that there are always two sides to the story.

Some children are so consumed with excelling at absolutely everything that they put an enormous amount of pressure on themselves.  And when something doesn’t go as well as planned, be it a spelling test or a soccer game, they completely fall apart. 

Perfectionism often leads to anxiety.

Children who are perfectionists are at risk for eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and even self-mutilation (commonly referred to as “cutting”).  It’s best to help your little perfectionist learn to manage and cope with feelings of failure along the way as soon as you see perfectionism pop up, so with that in mind, here are 7 Tips for Curbing Perfectionism:

1. Watch Your Messages.

Although it might like seem like your child’s perfectionism comes from within, it’s important to think about the messages she might be picking up at home.  If you are hyper-focused on grades and rewards, your child internalizes the message that the end result is the most important thing (versus the learning process).

Your child needs to understand that your love is unconditional, and that trophies and straight A’s do not change that fact.  When you tell your child that you are proud of her for her kindness, empathy, and effort, she experiences less pressure to bring home the gold.

2. Confront Cognitive Distortions.

Perfectionists tend to be all-or-nothing thinkers.  If a perfectionist earns a B on a test that she thought would be a breeze, for example, she might say something like, “I’m stupid.  I’m failing that class.”

Teach your child to break down the distorted thought by pointing out the flawed thinking.  In this case, a B is above average and certainly above an F.  Model replacing negative, exaggerated thoughts with positive thoughts.

3. Increase non-competitive Activities.

Perfectionists are always measuring their performance – sometimes against others, but often against themselves.  Perfectionists need to learn to participate in activities simply for the enjoyment of it.

Try to find an activity that exists simply for the enjoyment of it.  Arts and craft classes and gardening clubs are a great place to start.

4. Avoid Overscheduling.

Perfectionists tend to exist in a perpetual state of stress.  They don’t know how to calm down.  Overscheduling leads to increased stress for children.  Although it might seem like your perfectionist thrives under pressure, it can lead to poor sleep, poor eating habits, and increased illness.

Factor in downtime to each day.

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5. Allow for Mistakes.

In a world focused on success at all costs, parents have a tendency to get overinvolved in schoolwork and major projects.  When you let your child take control of her homework and projects, and allow her to make mistakes along the way, you give her an incredible learning opportunity.  Part of learning is trial and error.  Kids need to have their own ideas, problem-solve, and learn for the next project.

6. Talk About Your Mistakes.

We all make mistakes.  Failure is simply a part of life.  Talk about your own mistakes and failures along the way, and how you cope when something doesn’t go according to plan.

7. Set Limits.

If your child appears too fixated on any single project or event, including nightly homework, set time limits.  Children often need help learning to self-monitor.  Setting a timer and moving to a relaxing activity when the timer beeps teaches children that it’s ok to walk away from something difficult and gain some perspective.  You can always return to it later.

 

Do you have a perfectionist?  How do you help your child cope?

 

 

Image via Katie Hurley

 

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7 Tips for Curbing Perfectionism in Your Child

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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2 comments

  1. Great topic. I wish my parents had done this for me as a child.

  2. life says:

    this is really great. i need to use these tips on my son

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