Why is perfection so important to some kids, while others could care less? Jennifer DiNallo, LMFT in Milford, Connecticut, tells Parentology that for some kids, perfectionism is a manifestation of their anxiety. For others, it can stem from stressful situations like divorce. “It can also be from internalizing what they believe are others’ expectations of them, which becomes part of their internal working model.” What parents need to instill in their kids: it’s okay not to be perfect.
Recognizing Signs of Perfectionism
Besides having extremely high personal expectations, The Center for Parenting Education (The Center) says signs your child might be a perfectionist include:
- Being self-critical and critical of others
- Having low self-esteem
- Being sensitive to criticism
The question may arise: what’s so wrong with striving for perfection? Answer: It can lead to avoidance and an unwillingness to take risks. As well as missing out on some of life’s very important lessons.
How to Teach Your Kids They Don’t Need to be Perfect
Many children who are perfectionists often feel nothing they do is ever good enough. This can lead to anxiety and meltdowns. So how can parents help? Through modeling behavior. Oh, and being aware of your own perfectionist inclinations.
We’ve all heard the saying, “practice what you preach.” The same can be said for perfectionism. If you’re always trying to be perfect, there’s a good chance your child will do the same. It’s important not to hide your mistakes from your child. Share mistakes and acknowledge there’s nothing wrong with making them. In fact, mistakes, and failing, are an essential part of growth and learning. DiNallo says, “Teach them to try again, or that perfect isn’t necessary.”
- Look at giving your child room to fail and learning from the experience as a gift.
- Reassure that even if they fail, they’re still loved and accepted, The Center advises.
- Use these opportunities to instill a practice of self-compassion, a lifelong skill that will serve them well.
Another approach — help your child set realistic goals. This doesn’t mean they can’t reach for the stars. Instead, it illustrates how other kids may be reaching for those same stars and it’s not possible to win all the time, which is perfectly fine.
While wanting to be perfect can motivate a child to want to do better and accomplish more, it can also come with a price. DiNallo tells Parentology as kids get older they may get sad or depressed when they aren’t number one in academics or sports. Encourage them to try new things just for the enjoyment of the experience. There’s nothing like constantly falling on ice skates to reinforce lessons of empathy. And resilience.
And, when it comes to the ever-perfect world of social media, remind kids most posts rarely reflect on bad days. And that’s the thing… we all have perfectly bad days.
It’s Okay Not To Be Perfect: Sources
Jennifer DiNallo, LMFT, Milford, CT
The Center for Parenting Education