Does your child…
…expect nothing less than an A in all their classes?
…view criticism as a personal attack?
…avoid new projects because they’re worried they’ll fail?
Of course, there’s nothing wrong if your child wants to do their very best. But it’s self-defeating when they strive after an unattainable ideal—perfection.
Setting standards way too high only invites disappointment and failure. In time, this cycle can lead to your child becoming paralyzed. They begin to procrastinate, putting off doing important things, and eventually, avoid doing anything new altogether due to fear of failing.
So, how can you help your child to worry less about wanting to be perfect? And how can you guide them to understand and accept that it’s completely normal to make mistakes?
First, you have to understand the enemy: perfectionism.
What Is Perfectionism?
Perfectionism: the belief that anything short of perfection is unacceptable—including oneself.
Lamentably, in our achievement-obsessed society, parents tend to reward their children when they strive for perfection. At the same time, these parents also know that expecting perfection is a burden they should not place on their children.
A dangerously twisted paradox.
It really doesn’t matter where the seed came from—the child, the parents, or society in general—perfectionism robs a child of the chance to develop forward thinking.
Of course, some children have a strong need for organization and structure. They may even set very high goals for themselves. However, normally, these children can also accept that they’ll make mistakes and develop positive coping skills to handle their errors.
A perfectionistic child, though, can’t. They live with the constant worry of making mistakes. And that can lead to a heightened state of anxiety.
A heavy burden for a child and a crushing blow to healthy development!
How Can You Help Your Child Worry Less About Being Perfect?
Here are four tips to help your child worry less about their mistakes and understand that these missteps are normal:
Tip #1: Talk about their worries
It’s important that you encourage your child to talk about what worries them. To truly understand their anxieties, you need to help them develop an emotional vocabulary to express their concerns, especially when they’re very young.
Tip #2: Examine their perspective
Helping your child to understand that the terrible consequences they imagine will happen are only one possibility of many, is another vital step you can take. To that end, discuss some of the situations they worry about and encourage your child to look at them from someone else’s point of view. Guide them to ponder on what others may think if they were in the same situation. And ask them if trying to be perfect has made things easier or harder for them.
Tip #3: Challenge their perfectionistic thoughts
Once your child can see that their assessment of a situation is one in many, and they can see things from other people’s perspective as well, they can learn to challenge their thinking. Invite them to go ahead and do something they feel is less-than-perfect or try something new that they know they’re not good at and let them see if anything terrible will happen.
Tip #4: View failure in a different light
Of course, your child is bound to make a lot of mistakes when you encourage them to stretch themselves like that. At times, that means there will be negative consequences. But at other times, they will also see that what they worried about didn’t come true.
Most importantly, as you guide your child through these ventures, you can help them see that making mistakes is part of learning. It can give them the opportunity to hone skills and improve their performance, and it can also allow them to see that a certain activity may not be a good match for them. Plus, having a sense of humor about their errors is an invaluable ability you can help them develop throughout this step.
Above all, be supportive. Be by their side—with a listening ear, compassion, and understanding—keeping the lines of communication open and honest.
By using the above-mentioned tips, you can help your child be realistic, modify their expectations to reflect their abilities and limitations, and set reasonable and attainable goals—seeking excellence but avoiding striving for perfection!
Note: If your child’s perfectionism causes them serious distress or hinders their daily functioning, please seek professional help.