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Is Your Child a Perfectionist?

As a (recovering) perfectionist myself, I spent years labouring under the misapprehension that perfectionism was a 'good' thing. It meant I was dedicated, it meant I did a good job, it meant I was focused.

However, it also made me pretty unhappy. There's a big difference between being a perfectionist and being a high achiever. A high achiever will enjoy learning. Typically they'll set realistic goals, enjoy the challenge of getting there and then perhaps continue on a little further - just because they can.

A perfectionist on the other hand will set themselves entirely unrealistic goals, fail to enjoy the challenge of trying to get there (because they're so scared of failing) and then beat themselves up because they didn't make the unrealistic target that they set themselves. For a perfectionist - 'good' simply isn't ever good enough.

Plus, because 'good' isn't good enough; perfectionists will often suffer from a sort of paralysis when it comes to starting tasks. Their fear of failure can become so strong that it literally prevents a perfectionist from even trying.

So, is your child a perfectionist? Do the following traits sound familiar?

  1. Anything other than perfect is seen as a failure - this could apply to virtually anything - e.g. coming second rather than first, not achieving the top mark possible, failing to do something brilliantly every time etc.
  2. Perfectionists also tend to be painfully self-critical; they'll focus in on mistakes that they've made to the degree that they'll struggle to see anything good in what they've done.
  3. Perfectionists become very upset about unmet goals - and sadly, because they set the bar so high, they are actually more likely to fail (in their own eyes at least) because they will view something as a failure even when many would view it as a success.

In truth, there are probably elements of the perfectionist in a lot of people and, therefore, a lot of children. This doesn't mean that they are perfectionists 100% of the time. However, if you are concerned that your child might be suffering from any of the traits above, then there are ways you can help.


Praise effort over results

Typically perfectionists are so results focused that, if they fail to live up to their own painfully high standards, they will view the entire endeavour as a failure. Take the time to highlight how hard they've worked and what they've learned during the process.

Encourage them to set realistic goals

Being determined, motivated, even tenacious is great - as long as the goal is achievable. Talk to them about what they hope to achieve and if you feel that they are setting the bar impossibly high then encourage them to set more realistic goals.

Help them deal with what they perceive as failure

Remember that perfectionists set very high standards and, as such, will see what many would think of as a success as a failure instead. Don't dismiss these feelings, but instead highlight how well they've done.

Show them it's ok to 'fail'

No one can be brilliant at everything - and even if you're not brilliant you can still have lots of fun doing it. A fear of not being good enough can often make a perfectionist wary of even trying. Try to build a safe environment where it's ok not to 'win' at everything. Try to emphasise that as long as they try their best then that's brilliant.

Perhaps most importantly, remind them often that, no matter what, you're very proud of them and you love them.

Image credit Katiyar Hode

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