Perfectionism is a personality trait characterised by the setting of extremely high performance standards and an intense fear of failure. When children are young parents tend to foster this behavior because it’s how they work hard at anything they do. However, perfectionism can be harmful because children’s brains are developing and they need to learn that mistakes are a normal part of life.
It can be tough as a parent to know how to best support your perfectionist child. On one hand, you want them to push themselves and reach their full potential. On the other hand, you don’t want them to feel burdened by unrealistic expectations. Here are six strategies that can help you strike the right balance.
First it is important to understand what motivates a perfectionist. A perfectionist is motivated by a fear of failure and the desire to gain acceptance. Mistakes are seen as evidence they are not good enough and possibly not worthy of love an attention.
Here are 6 strategies to help your perfectionist child:
Acknowledge and accept your child perfectionism
And teach your child to do the same. You can’t simply make perfectionism disappear. Like any other thoughts and feelings, you need to teach your child to notice when they pop up and accept them. It’s not the thought that does damage; it’s the way they respond to it.
When you see your child paralysed by perfectionism, you might say, “I think you a hearing your perfectionism voice right now. Is this voice telling you what you are doing is not good, beautiful, neat (help your child put into words what they are thinking)?”
When children have rigid ideas of how things (or they) ‘should’ be, perfectionism tends to take control. The antidote to this is self-compassion. When children respond to setbacks with self-compassion, the way forward is easier.
Research has found that self-compassion helps reduce the impact of perfectionism. Kristen Neff, a leader in self-compassion research, has identified three parts to self-compassion:
- Self-kindness – as opposed to self-criticism. ‘I made a mistake. That’s okay. I’ll get it next time,’ or, ‘That didn’t turn out the way I thought. What can I learn from this?’;
- Connection to our common humanity – seeing our experiences as part of being human, rather than a sign of our own deficits or failings. Nurture this by encouraging open, non-judgemental, compassionate conversation about mistakes and setbacks (yours and theirs);
- Mindfulness – letting painful thoughts and emotions come and go, rather than attaching more meaning to the thought or feeling than it deserves.
Help build your child’s resilience
Parents have the drive to protect their children from disappointment. Sometimes, without intention, we can become over-protective. Our children need to learn to deal with disappointment as much as they need to celebrate their achievements.
Whenever it is safe, give your child the opportunity to feel their feelings of disappointment. Provide them with opportunities to learn that the uncomfortable feelings that come with failure aren’t always a reason to hold back from being brave. There is no need to ‘fix’ the feelings that are pushing against them. Instead, try a gentle acknowledgement and let time and their own emotional resilience do the rest. Try something like, “It sounds as though you’re disappointed. Getting that school award (or anything else important to your child) meant a lot to you, didn’t it? It feels pretty miserable when things don’t go to plan – I get it”.
Focus on the process rather than the outcome
Kids can take their results as a reflection of themselves. Help that image be a strong one by helping them focus on the process rather than the outcome. Say: “I love how hard you worked on that. You had some great ideas for your assignment.” By doing this, they can discover that imperfection doesn’t change the good in them. They can make mistakes and be hardworking, determined, brave, and strong.
Give your child permission to “make mistakes.”
Nothing is more paralysing than the fear of failure. Telling your child that it’s okay to fail will help her rebound when she isn’t successful. Remind your child that every time you fail at something, you learn what doesn’t work.
Children’s fear of failure is often based on fear of disappointing the people they love. Remind your child that you cannot love them any more or any less than what you already do. Let them know that your love for them is not conditional on their success or failure.
You can use the Superpower Kids Train of Thoughts printable to help your child acknowledge and accept their thoughts.
You can find this activity and many others in our My Mindfulness Book. Shop now.