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A Parent’s Guide to Perfectionism in Kids

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Do you have a perfectionist in your home? Do you see tears over the slightest mistake? Or frustration when things don’t go as planned? Some kids are very hard on themselves. They feel a burden to be perfect and beat themselves up over any little mistake.

Often this is not reflective of anything serious, but it is important to take an objective look at your perfectionistic child and identify any possible underlying problems. If you find that your child’s symptoms are not of clinical significance, there are some things you can do at home to help her.

Rule Out Underlying Conditions

Some symptoms of concern include:

  • more days filled with worry than not
  • persistent, but unfounded, fears
  • feelings of worthlessness more days than not
  • a marked or sudden change in mood, affect or interests
  • perseverating on mistakes or problems to a disabling degree
  • worry that interferes with school or sleep
  • lack of interest in pleasurable things
  • extreme rage in response to frustration

If your child’s symptoms interfere with her everyday functioning, or if the symptoms have persisted for 6 months or more (or have come on in a sudden and severe way), it is advised that you talk with your child’s pediatrician or a trusted children’s counselor. It may be time for some outside help.

What You Can Do at Home

If your child is only demonstrating moderate to mild traits of perfectionism there are some things you can do at home to help ease her of the need to be perfect.

1) Take a close look at your expectations. As parents, we want the very best for our children. We want them to do their very best and be their very best. For some children this can be motivating. But for others, it can be crippling. We need to know our children’s unique traits and tailor our parenting accordingly. If we have expectations that are unrealistic for that particular child, we might be contributing to this tendency toward perfectionism. If we subconsciously (or consciously) wish our child were different, we can send signals that they don’t measure up. Know your child and embrace the child that God has given you.

2) Take a close look at yourself. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Sometimes we model paralyzing perfectionism and don’t even know it. Do a little self assessment. Ask yourself these questions: Am I too hard on myself? Do I allow myself to make mistakes? Do I make self-deprecating comments? Am I sending a message that perfection is the goal? Am I critical of others in front of my child?

3) Encourage risk. Some kids are cautious by nature. Kids who fear failure can be crippled by it. It is important that you find the right balance between encouraging your child to stretch and pushing her into something that she is not ready for.

4) Correct less, encourage more. Nit-picking can become a parental habit if you are not careful. Pointing out everything your child does wrong in an attempt to teach him the “right” way to do things can be damaging. Before you correct, consider if the behavior is willful, selfish or simply uninformed. Perfectionistic children need less correction and more encouragement.

5) Focus on what went right, not what went wrong. If your child has an experience with failure, make sure that you emphasize what went right. Don’t point out what she could have done differently. If after some assessment such a conversation is necessary, wait until the sting of failure has worn off. Let her know that effort is more important than results.

6) Don’t get sucked into a pity party. For some kids the burden of perfectionism can lead to low self-worth. Your child’s “pity party” may be an attempt to extract evidence that they are not worthless. Make sure you are providing lots of encouragement when your child is not pulling for it. Don’t indulge in self-pity either. Affirm and support by reflecting feelings and focusing on the positive.

In the end, the reality is that some children are just wired this way. You may do everything “right”, but still have a perfectionist on your hands. You may need to accept that this is who your child is and lovingly encourage her to take risks and encourage her when she fails. You can also spend some time talking about the process of sanctification in a way she can understand. In our next post, we will talk more about how Christian parents can use God’s word and a word picture to help their children understand the concept of being saved but not perfect.

[Photo credit: chilombiano from morguefile.com]

About the author

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in children and families. CfP is the place she combines some of her very favorite things: writing, parenting and God’s word. She loves encouraging parents to build their families upon Jesus, the one true Cornerstone. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring children.

1 Comment

  • […] this behavioral type. As it turns out, she seems to be exhibiting mild traits of ‘Perfectionism‘. I say mild because, despite her frustrations she does pretty well at school and is somewhat […]

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