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Battling Perfectionism in Children

Updated on May 15, 2007

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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