Parents face many unique challenges with their children, particularly about school. When I was a child, my parents definitely had their hands full with me, but for reasons you may not expect—I was a child perfectionist! Here I share my experiences and advice for parents who may be navigating or noticing perfectionism in their children.
The first step is to figuring out whether your child is a perfectionist is to identify what this behaviour looks like. While it can manifest in different ways, here are the main behaviours which indicate children may be perfectionists:
- They are unhappy with achievements that other children would consider a success.
- They frequently get frustrated when completing projects and assignments, even though they seem to be doing a good job.
- They are inordinately competitive and get upset when their peers fare better than they do, even if they did well.
- They are extremely concerned about what others think about them, especially mentors, teachers and parents, and are constantly seeking approval.
Now that we have identified what child perfectionism can look like, I am going to share with you some possible ways to support your child, based on experiences I had when I was younger, and how those around me were able to successfully help me overcome them.
- Encourage your child to complete things even if they find them difficult: As a child, I had a history of starting things and not completing them if I was not naturally talented at them, particularly sports. When this happened, my parents would encourage me to keep at it long enough to find out if I was not enjoying the activity because I found it hard, or because I genuinely didn’t like it. If I found that even after practicing and gaining some skill, I was still not enjoying it, my parents would let me move on and try something new.
- Find activities which are not as competitive: As a perfectionist, constantly striving to be the best at everything can be exhausting. I found great comfort in doing self-directed activities with lower stakes and lower pressure to achieve results. Some examples for me included reading, swimming lessons, cooking, and acting. Try these or other activities and discover what works for your child.
- Celebrate small successes: With a child perfectionist, what other children would consider a success can feel like failure to your child, and maybe even to you as a parent. Try to keep things in perspective for your child: a “B” is still a good mark; an “A” is not always possible. The reality is that marks tend to go down as students progress through higher levels of education, so it is important to help your child prepare for this phenomenon at an early age.
- Use perceived “failures” as learning opportunities: A perfectionist is often their ownworst critic. When perfectionists do poorly on something, especially if it relates to school, they may internalize their less-than-perfect moments and see themselves as failures. It can therefore be important to help your child to see that “failures” are merely opportunities to learn more about something, and then do better in the future. Making a mistake is a normal part of growing up, and necessary to improve.
I hope these strategies might help to ease the worry you and your child may be experiencing. Dealing with child perfectionism can be challenging. For me, I found that the most important thing to remember is that life goes on, regardless of the mistakes you make.
Please note that these are my personal experiences and opinions with child perfectionism. What worked for me may not work for you. For additional information, we’ve linked a few helpful resources:
- Anxiety Canada’s “Overcoming Perfectionism”
- Today’s Parents: “How to handle your child’s perfectionism”
- Psychology Today’s: “The Perils of Perfectionism in Kids and Teens”