What to do if you child is a perfectionist?
Many parents can only dream about a kid who has a tidy room and neat books, devotes free time for homework, and is excellent at all assignments. He goes to bed and wakes up at one time. He is never late and always is ready to make his daily routine. “Golden child” — some people will say. Others will puzzle: “What’s the catch?” and it will be not long in coming. Because parents of overachiever kids face challenges too, and sometimes they are no less tricky than parents of flunkey kids have. In this article, we explore perfectionism in its depths, its benefits, and potential danger and find out how to address kid’s perfectionism.
What is perfectionism?
Perfectionism is characterized by setting high and sometimes impossible goals, self-criticism, and disability to feel satisfaction. Many kids and grown-ups have adaptive forms of perfectionism that make them have a high personal standard, high level of motivation, and organization. It helps kids to achieve goals and be successful in various fields of life.
The scientists Hibbard and Walton write for the journal “Social Behavior and Personality” that some children have an overwhelming desire for flawlessness. Their passion is so all-consuming and all-encompassing that it leads them through life. In this case, perfectionism acquires a harmful shape. Raising the level of perfectionism and the disability to control it will bring negative consequences: exaggerated reactions to mistakes, low self-esteem, and anxiety are among them.
Perfectionism is a partly heritable personality trait. Gordon Flett, the director of the LaMarsh Centre for Child and Youth Research, has researched kids and older perfectionism for decades. He found that perfectionism tendency is partly genetic. But not only genetics makes a kid a true perfectionist. Early childhood experience plays a significant role too. What messages does a kid receive from parents about success and failure? Do parents expect a kid to be perfect? A kid’s temperament also plays an important role because sensitive kids are more prone to deep emotions and more likely to display perfectionism traits.
Signs of perfectionism in children
A kid can show the first signs of perfectionism in early childhood. It may steadily grow, but the grade of perfectionism generally depends on environmental factors, such as parents’ and teachers’ behavior. A kid with perfectionist tendencies has:
- Black and white thinking (This mistake makes me a total failure for all my life);
- The habit of overgeneralization (This failure proves that I will never do well);
- Focus on negatives (I have broken this vase, I am the worst);
- Striving for very challenging or unrealistic goals (I must get 100% in my exam!);
- Discounting success (I achieved my goal, but everybody can do that! What if I must do something more challenging?)
- Traumatic experience after mistakes (They (and I) will never forget my mistake);
- Sensitivity to criticism (I feel terrible and never forget when the teacher said about my awful drawing);
- Too many cautions and fear of doing something new (What if I’ll be laughed out of my singing?);
- Anxiety to make a failure (I should repeat this task again and again not to make a mistake in the class);
- Self-criticism (I am so stupid! I am the worst).
Perfectionism in kids: pros and cons
Some people see perfectionism in a positive light. For some of them, perfectionism is even a compliment and a reason for self-pride. They see no harm in setting high standards and desire for self-improvement. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with purposes and perseverance. However, it depends on how much a kid wants to get success.
Those who are raising a perfectionist may see how difficult it can be. Perfectionists face disappointment everywhere and feel this is not a perfect world very acutely. As people have different temperaments, perfectionists may express negative feelings in another way.
One parent becomes an unwilled spectator of a dramatic scene when a kid is throwing himself on the floor, whining, and through tears saying about his worthlessness. Others can see pictures with minimizing drama, but still sad: midnight, torn up papers, some crying episodes. The third parents see how kids are silencing problems and suffering from them.
In all those cases parents witness — a kid comes across something difficult and anxious. It is significant to track it because when perfectionism remains unchecked, it may have lifelong consequences.
Today more and more researchers give perfectionism negative esteem and separate a healthy desire for achievements from an idea to be permanently perfect. Thus, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, Dr. Carol Dweck says about two kinds of perfectionists:
- Excellent-seekers. They have a healthy motivation to achieve. Generally, they are happy and satisfied. They get more success and draw inspiration from it.
- Budding perfectionists. They have a fixed mindset and cover under perfection an attempt to avoid judgment. They cannot calmly face challenges and constantly procrastinate.
This classification shed some light on perfection and a close but not identical notion — excellence:
- signs of excellence: confidence, learning, inspiring, self-motivating, growth mindset.
- signs of perfection: fear of failure, finding mistakes, demoralizing, self-critical, a fixed mindset.
Dr. Harrier Braiker made a formula: “Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing”.
Now you see that perfectionism is not simply a desire to make everything perfect. Its motives are deeper and more complicated. A perfectionist wants to do best because of fear. His failures seem like evidence that he is not good enough. In this case, a kid may think that he deserves no acceptance. Researchers say that extreme perfectionism can cause social anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and health problems. It is the reason many researchers believe that true perfectionism is always harmful.
Origins of children’s perfectionism
Genetics plays not the main role as many environmental factors can exacerbate it:
- Family pressure — pushing children to achieve more and more and focus on excellence makes kid lift standards above attainment.
- Seeking parent love — sometimes kids see the only way to be loved at home.
- Way of compensation — child tries to compensate lack of athleticism, for example.
- Social influences — high-pressure school environment may a kid feel uncomfortable at school.
- Social media effect — through Net, we can see how people condemn the mistakes of others.
- Academic pressure — some teenagers are so worried about their future, for example, about their GPA or scholarships, that they believe they need to be perfect everywhere.
- Desire to please — some kids want to please parents to reduce parent stress or attract attention.
- Law self-worth — some kids suffer from low self-esteem and believe that achieving unrealistic goals can help them feel good. But they tend to concentrate on the mistakes, that’s why such a person can hardly feel good.
- Too much praise and sensationalism — gifted kids may feel it when they find themselves in loom light. As a result, the media and grown-ups can make a kid feel like he needs to be always perfect. Statistics say that 20% of gifted kids suffer from perfectionism.
- Traumas — some experiences convince kids that they are unloved and can only be accepted if they will be perfect.
Healthy and unhealthy perfectionism
Not all perfectionism is bad. That’s why don’t be in a hurry to ruin kid aspirations and hopes. Because helping to avoid perfectionism doesn’t mean persisting in having low standards. It is important to support a kid in setting goals or awaken and strengthen a desire to strive for his best. A human always has his eyes on some prize. Our goals and hopes add sense to our ordinary life, help develop our skills and enrich our inner world. But there is a significant rule regarding kid success and motivation.
Track how you estimate your child’s achievement. Do you demand a high result? Are you severe when a kid has mistaken? Psychologists recommend praising kid focus, modeling persistence, and sharing moments of failure.
Signs of healthy perfectionism:
- setting high personal standards;
- gentle acceptance of self;
- the normal reaction to mistakes;
- readiness to try new.
When a kid crosses a red line, he turns into a budding perfectionist. In that case, high standards will not bring a kid to great achievement, but perfectionism may have the opposite effect.
Potential dangers of perfectionism:
- A high level of anxiety prevents kids from trying new things and getting success.
- Kids cover their pain and turmoil under the mask of a perfectionist. Unhealthy perfectionists try to control everything around them. That’s why they need outside order and harmony. They avoid things that make them uncomfortable. A family therapist Michele Kambolis says that a kid gains short-term relief by trying to make everything perfect.
- If a child tries to control everything, his level of stress grows all the time.
- Constant stressful situations lead to excessive emotional and physical pressure. A child has a high risk of depression, anxiety, and mental health issues.
Tip to note: research in LaMarsh Centre for Child and Youth Research at York University has shown an increase in perfectionism among kids’ latest generations. The majority of them by the age of 25 have a little destructive form of perfectionism, but about 30% have to strive for unrealistic perfection and suffer from it.
Worrisome signs of overwhelming perfectionism
Parents need to discern perfectionism in a kid as a personality trait. They need to support a kid and sometimes correct his behavior. However, sometimes, perfectionism can achieve overwhelming scales, and it is important to see it. Specialists say the following signs of problematic behavior:
- Extreme self-deprecation. When a kid gives a low estimation of his personality, it is a signal for proactive steps. Doctor Poltorak, a Ph.D., a pediatric and young-adult medical psychologist in private practice in Birmingham, considers things like “I’m stupid”, “I am not worthy”, “I hate myself” are very disturbing. A child can not be happy or satisfied because of the tendency to focus on mistakes more actively than on success.
- The lack of confidence to try new things that they want to do. Kids are afraid or shy to do something new because of fear of losing control and make mistakes. This is a sign of a fixed mindset, slowing down their development.
- Devastating recovery after mistakes. Perfectionists can’t move on from the mistakes and step on the same rake again and again.
How to address kids’ perfectionism
This simple tips will help you deal with you child perfectionism.
1. Take care of yourself
Children learn greatly about success, their strengths, perseverance, and enjoyment of challenges from their parents. They watch how grown-ups set goals and achieve them, how they manage challenges, and cope with failures. That’s why it is important to analyze behavior and ask yourself: “Am I a perfectionist?” Maybe a kid is just mirroring your behavior. Then you should help yourself first. Because you can give worthy lessons on how to navigate through life. Several tips can help you:
- avoid the word “perfect” even as praise;
- focus on the enjoyment of challenges and process more than on results;
- ask a kid, “Did you have fun today?” and don’t talk about results;
- help a kid to set reachable goals;
- tell about imperfection and share your failures;
- ask a kid to help you or ask for a piece of advice.
2. Teach a kid a “Power of Yet”
When a kid says that he can’t do something, always add three letters: “Yet!”. This simple rule may positively guide thoughts. It brings a belief that you can achieve goals and dreams; all you need is time. This rule helps accept the idea that success will come for those who devote time, make efforts, don’t fear mistakes, and keep on practice.
3. Focus on fun
Researchers of George Washington University published a study devoting fun to youth sports. According to it, winning is not the essential element in the game for kids. They more often talk about “fun” — positive coaching, trying hard, and having friends. Parents may also be not so serious sometimes, don’t ask a kid, “How many goals did you score?” or “How did you do today?”. Just ask: “Did you have fun today?”. It will show that you care more about your child’s wellbeing and enjoying the activity than about winning and achieving high results. The same can be true not only in sports.
4. Balloon Technique
This technique suits young kids. Talk with the kid about negative feelings, thoughts, voices demanding perfection. Explain to a kid that it is quite normal to have these thoughts. Imagine blowing a balloon and put all negative and self-critical thoughts into the balloon, then let it go.
5. Just be there
Try to remember the first weeks of your kid’s life when all the kid needs are just you’re staying there. According to psychologist Dr. Flett, this technique will help confused parents who can fix the situation at this moment and are afraid to make it worse.
Parent position concerning success, failures, living standards, and lifestyle largely predetermine kid level of perfectionism. That is the reason why it is significant to build the right attitude towards perfectionism. Checking your and your child’s mindset and habits will help avoid unhealthy perfectionism and its potential risks.
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