Battling Perfectionism in Children

Quick List for Battling Perfectionism

  • Make lists and prioritize them
  • Create outlines or plans of work to accomplish
  • Re-evaluate plans as a project develops, changing plans if necessary
  • Set clear deadlines for discrete components of a project
  • Foster an awareness of time
  • Get clear on expectations
  • Let her know she's not alone in her struggle with perfectionism
  • Teach your child proper breathing and relaxation techniques

Many kids and especially gifted children struggle with perfectionism. What does it really mean when we say someone is a perfectionist?

Merriam Webster defines perfectionism as:

the doctrine that the perfection of moral character constitutes a person's highest good AND that a state of freedom from sin is attainable on earth AND as a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable

Wow! You can see why this is a bad thing right? We don't want our kids trying to be perfect because it's impossible. But where do you draw the line? We want them to be excellent don't we? To make matters worse, it's may be that your little one is only following in your footsteps as a perfectionist.

Why is My Child a Perfectionist?

There are many reasons for perfectionism. It may be that you have those tendencies and are passing them on to your children through your expectations and your behavior. However, some children are simply born with an uncontrollable urge to strive for perfection. Either way, there's no sense blaming yourself, just get some information and move on.

Parents Can Help Perfectionist Children

You need to accept that you may never fully eradicate your child's perfectionism, but you can help him to deal with it. Let children know that while it's wonderful to begin with a grand vision, it's also okay if the end result is different that the original plan. Stress the importance of enjoying the process of whatever activity you're doing. Explain that finished products will improve over time as the child gets more and more practice.

Perfectionists want to give 110% at everything they do and often take on several projects at once. However, when they face multiple tasks, they often get stuck and won't begin on anything. They need your help to sort out what needs to be done, one task at a time. They need to learn to focus all of their attention on one thing at a time. That way they get to feel satisfaction with each accomplished piece of the puzzle.

The ambitions of the perfectionist child are often greater than their current abilities and it's difficult for these kids to value where they are right now. For example, children who are avid readers may berate themselves because they cannot create their own stories as good as what they read.

Perfectionists, both children and adults, are often afraid of the unknown and it's your job to help your child overcome this tendency, or at least to recognize it.

Teach Kids To Be Good Enough

Regardless of how high you set expectations, there are times when you simply have to accept ‘good enough'. There is a fine line you walk when trying to explain to a child the importance of getting things done in a timely manner without squashing their impulse to produce a quality result. If we don't strike a balance, we risk fostering an attitude that it's okay to turn in sloppy work.

If your child suffers perfectionism, minimizing its effects will likely be a lifelong pursuit so keep trying and don't beat yourself up if you can't lick it in a day!

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Comments 13 comments

Rfordin profile image

Rfordin 4 years ago from Florida

I'm just now realizing how much of a perfectionist my oldest is (5). She's often frustrated to tears by her inability to do something, which has me thinking along the lines of a possible Autism diagnosis. She has other charteristics of the disorder as well. It stands to mention that sometimes being a perfectionist is a symptom rather then a stand alone trait. Good article!

~Becky


Melanie 5 years ago

My son isn't gifted, but he is clearly a perfectionist. He is 7 now and in grade two. Does anyone have any advise on how to help him. He is getting worse and worse all the time. He now won't do anywork in school, he sits at home and mumbles to himself about stuff ("I'll never do it" "No one likes me" "It's terrible" "I hate it" etc) He destroys stuff he's working on. He will punish himself by giving up stuff (parties, snacks, blankets on the bed, whatever)When someone comments in any way on anything he's done he reacts by destroying it or saying "it's awful". He has been like this since he was born, obviously not to the extreme to which has gotten. He is a melancholy child and I understand that they have a propensity to perfectionism. He not only takes on his own imagined problems, but those of the world as well. I can't stand to see him degrade any further. I am at my wits end. Any advice will be appreciated.


Amy 5 years ago

I understand where you are coming from and do not wish to attack any of your comments. I basically have a question/issue. It is largely my own insecurities coming out. My son and his cousin are 3 weeks apart in age. The cousin is lauded as being a genius by their aunt, nana and mother. I have spoken to them about how it bothers me when my son is compared to her son but they only say they're just different. I feel that they feel closer and like the 'genius' more. Do you have any tips from the other side of things?


Susan 5 years ago

I have a son who is 15 years old and is a perfectionist. He excels in sports and in academics. My problem is that he is soooo hard on himself. It could be the smallest thing and he acts like it is the end of the world. My husband and I are not like this. He has 3 siblings that are not like this. We have a hard time dealing with him. Please help us if you have any advice or experience with this.


teacher22 5 years ago

I am a kindergarten teacher and am currently dealing with a boy who exhibits giftedness along with perfectionism. It is very disconcerting to see him beat himself up when he can't complete a task perfectly. Public schools want to define perfectionism as a behavioral problem, but I think children with these traits need encouragement to know that it's ok to make mistakes. If a child recognizes that they made a mistake, that tells the teacher or parent that they realize they made a mistake and only need to know that because they made the mistake and now want to correct it is good. The problems arise when the child is insistent on using white out to correct the mistake or wants to start again and again until they get it right. There just aren't enough hours in the day for the child to do that.

I have seen mild frustration, crying, and tantrums from this child and have resorted to using a timer to help him complete work. I was surprised to see that the timer was a good thing, as I assumed that the pressure would sabotage the effort made by this child. It really helps the educator if the parents are aware of the traits of their child so that they can support your efforts. I am able to send unfinished work home with this child and the parents will make sure the work is completed before the next school day. They have also put a sticker chart into use at their house for every day that this child has a successful day at school. My hope is that this child can overcome some of the perfectionism so he can be happy about any work he attempts.


Millionheir 6 years ago

Thank you for writing these insightful articles, I am a gifted child myself, seeking to enhance my performance by learning more about giftedness. There is so much to be understood about gifted children, and I'm thankful I could find your hubs which are rooted in personal experience.


Lapango 6 years ago

bad advice...I think big vision is one of the greatest things children have. It should be encouraged, and children will themselves learn the difference between a vision that is too big or manageable. Many times our sense of what types of goals are too big are in fact fallacious.


powerspike profile image

powerspike 7 years ago from Sydney, Australia

I have been having this issue with my child, everything has to be in it's place, it's an upwards battle but i think i am getting though, putting a plate on the sink when it's dirty is good enough, she doesn't have to stack them up, etc. Just persistance, and letting them know what is considered good enough, and what people expect, has helped a lot. (note:she is only a little over 2, but i can see the traits there already)


S. 7 years ago

I am so guilty it took me this long that most of my 15 year old problems stem from her perfectionism. She has been diagnosed school phobia, depression, etc, but when I realized that she has excessive perfectionism, I felt all of the puzzles fit together.

Anyway, she has not going to school for 1.5 years. (All the counselling did not work, I think partly we all have kind missed the mark, and being perfectionist, she concluded those sessions are meaningless.) If she stopps going to school again this coming semester in Jan. she will be ordered by court to be put in a group home. Is that the right thing?

I would like to help her, but she being a teenager, doesn't let me help her too easily. She has unrealistic demand of therapists; she has refused all, because she hates being criticized, and they all points out that something has to be done to get out of her rut.

Pls. let me know what to do.

setsukomaeda@yahoo.com


lhdkus 7 years ago

Woemwood:

I have a perfectionist child. He knows when he misses his mark. It is as if he has an innate understanding of ‘perfect form’ in his mind’s eye; a form that others cannot see or understand. The frustration of not being able to reproduce this idea of ‘perfect’ absolutely rips his mind apart. The suffering is his own and it is sincere and has been with him since he was a baby. He is 5 years old. I watch and worry and know that I have a son who is heading for depths of disappointment that I may never understand. What is worse, I feel powerless to protect him because the one who constantly disappoints him is himself. No degree of praise has ever really made a change.

I might, as a response to your nonsensical comment, point to the fact that the site which you have visited is designed for parents of gifted children. It was not designed, if I understand your concern correctly, for parents who want their children to be gifted. Being a parent is a gift, but having a gifted child is special kind of difficulty that no loving parent would wish for. I have been holding my twin sons back for years because I understand the kind of life that they are facing. I have been there myself.

You speak of morals. Imagine understanding morals and complicated theories of ethical behavior at the age of 5. Imagine crying as a small child because you are suffering on behalf of all humanity. That is not lazy, selfish, or uncaring. It is gifted, and it is hard and that, dear blogger, is one of the many reasons that parents like us meet in sites such as this and talk about ways in which we can help our children.

I should perhaps restrain myself and comment to you in more simple terms. In other words, it appears to me that you might just be talking out of your rear, to put it nicely. And the fact that you use, and misinterpret God to make a point for which you have no support seems somewhat poor. If nothing else, I suspect that She would not appreciate such foolishness from any human. Finally, and while I have your attention, I might suggest that you begin using the spellchecker option on your computer.

You have a nice day!


dbmyrrha profile image

dbmyrrha 9 years ago from Olympia

As a teacher of special needs children, I have encountered perfectionism in disabled children as well. The fear of making any mistakes, the need to write, erase, and re-write until the letters are "perfect" ...it occurs in children of all levels and abilities.

When this tendency leads to stagnation, I counter it by pointing out every time I make a mistake. Laughing it off. Talking openly about how everybody makes mistakes and that is how people learn. It seems to help. I don't expect perfection from my kids (although I have high standards.) I give a lot of praise and encouragement and very little criticism. My job is to help students learn to feel comfortable with their best, even if it's not the same as someone else's best.


Lela Davidson profile image

Lela Davidson 9 years ago from Bentonville, Arkansas Author

Thanks for comment. While I can agree with some of your points, I think parents searching for ways to deal with perfectionist children are genuinely facing this issue. Some people are predisposed to perfectionism and the more we recognize this as parents, the better we serve our kids.~Lela


Woemwood profile image

Woemwood 9 years ago from Melbourne Australia

Miss Lela, how can a child know it is a perfectionist, according to Merriam Webster? Perfectionism is generally referred too as being, thoroughly versed, trained, skilled, finished, qualities,etc. high degree of discipline, complet, highest, having all the essential parts,expressing action completed, this is the definition of the Cassell dictionary, and it mentioning as a secondary enlightenment, similar to Merrian Webster older version drawn from the Bible, that gives Gods command to the first human pair, and failing that command became imperfect, because they have sinned, which only means that they have missed the mark.How can a child know that, when it missed the mark, when parents do not know.

A further reference is made regarding this very standard from the Bible, it says: One believing in the possibility of attaining moral or social perfection.

How can a child have any of these notions? what you are refering too is gifted, and talented children often behave a little different then the standard type of child. Claiming something to be perfect is quite relative, and has little to do with the common believe, of the ultimate, unatainable robotic performance. Even the perfect standaed required by God referes to obedience rather then skill or finishing, if you ask your child to clean her room, but leave the dirt in the middle of the room she or he as completed the job perfect, because that's the way it was instructed, even though the room is not clean yet.

And the statement that perfectonist start several project at the same time and then get stuck, is alluding to an indecisvie mind, undisciplined, disorganized, rather then a clear thinking mind. there is no such thing in children today, of striving for being better, it's rather a striving for selfishness, individualism, and a host of other ism's, selve elevation etc, children these days have got no discipline, they learn no morals, and they are lazy as a rule. And the reason is quite apparent, because that's the way the parents are.

Instead of worring about perfectionism as such, it would be better parents worry more about their children's ethical and moral standards, that way we would eventually create a better world.

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