• Gail Webber

Is my child a perfectionist and should I be worried?

Updated: Jul 13

What is perfectionism?

Perfectionism involves a continuous pressure to meet extremely high standards to achieve self-worth, despite the negative consequences that such relentless striving brings. A perfectionist pushes him/herself to make no mistakes in anything, ever. To achieve this, they will spend huge amounts of time on a project or task making sure every single aspect is flawless.

We are pleased when our children hold high expectations of themselves. But if they expect everything to be perfect, they will never be satisfied with their performance or experience a sense of pride in a job well done. Instead, they anxiously obsess over what they should have done better, which can lead to anxiety, issues with their self-esteem and ultimately not achieving their potential, as they do not start new projects or take any risks or they give up easily for fear of not being the best or worry about making a mistake.

What should I look out for?

  • Difficulty starting and completing assignments because they fear that their work is never "good enough" and procrastination in general

  • High anxiety surrounding failure and high sensitivity to criticism

  • High frustration and self-criticism when a mistake is made or things do not go perfectly to plan

  • Trouble with making decisions or prioritising tasks, as they want to make the perfect decision and do not know which this is, so they avoid making any decision at all for fear of making the “wrong” decision

  • Excessive worry about being judged by others and/or high anxiety about embarrassing themselves in front of others

  • Excessive concern with parents’ expectations and evaluation

12 tips on how you can help your perfectionist child:

1. When your younger child is having a tantrum because they have made a mistake or your older child is withdrawing or feeling excessively stressed about achieving a goal, it is important for you to stay calm. Your child needs your understanding and patience to soothe away their discomfort and frustration.

2. Once you are both calmer, try saying something like, “I know you’re frustrated and upset with yourself because you want this to be perfect but it’s OK to make mistakes/not achieve 100%.”

3. When you make a mistake like burning the dinner or getting lost in the car, then point it out and make light of it. Highlight whenever you can that it is ok to make mistakes and that is how we learn and grow.

4. Perhaps introduce them to some of Edison’s quotes:

Regarding his invention of the lightbulb he said, "I haven't failed - I've just found 10,000 that won't work."

He also said, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is to try just one more time.” And

"Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless."

5. When your child is doing a test, a race or a performance of some kind ask about their effort and determination rather than the outcome to de-emphasise the importance of winning or being top of the class. Also, praise them for treating others with kindness or for being a good friend. Make it clear that achievement isn’t the only important thing in life.

6. Reduce extra-curricular activities to reduce the number of achievements that your child is focussing on and increase their rest and relaxation.

7. To improve your child’s self-esteem, encourage them to engage in activities that help them feel good about who they are, not just what they accomplish. For instance, volunteering, learning new things, and engaging in artistic endeavours.

8. Talk to your child about goals they want to reach. If these goals require perfection, talk about the dangers of setting unrealistically high goals and help them establish more realistic goals.

9. Help your child identify what they can control, and what they can’t. Whether your child wants to be the best football player in the whole school or score top marks in all their exams, make it clear that they can’t control all of the circumstances that influence success, such as how hard the tests are or how well their peers perform. But they can control their own effort.

10. Monitor your expectations. Make sure you aren’t putting pressure on your child to be perfect. Create high but reasonable expectations.

11. Ask older children to note in a log when their inner perfectionist appears and what is going on for them at that time. Ask them to think “what is the worst that can happen?” if they were not to achieve what they are striving for. Providing this new perspective may take some of their stress away. You can also encourage them to think “What about this can I solve right now?”. Positive action can help them to feel more in control.

12. Teach healthy coping skills. Although failure is uncomfortable, it’s not intolerable. Teach your child how to deal with disappointment, rejection, and mistakes in a healthy way.

You may want to seek outside help if:

  • your child’s perfectionism is interfering with their social life due to excessive studying to obtain perfect scores or

  • they are so concerned about their appearance that they do not want to go out or take part in sports or other activities or

  • they cannot start or complete educational projects because they think that their work is not good enough

I use EFT tapping (Emotional Freedom Techniques) to understand and melt away any underlying emotions and beliefs that are causing perfectionist behaviours. With EFT tapping we work together to identify, understand and delete these beliefs on a subconscious level to realise lasting change, reducing anxiety and improving health and wellbeing. EFT can be learnt and used by even young children to soothe away their frustrations and anger at any time, promoting calm, confidence and happiness.

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