Kids are trying to be perfect.  But why?: Kids and perfectionism

Kids are trying to be perfect. But perfect doesn’t exist. I’ve never seen anything perfect not a flower, not a bird, not an essay, not even a haircut.

There is always room for improvement and it’s always good enough to do your own personal best.

We can. Only if you do the best that we can at any given time with the resources that we possess.

No one was born perfect and no one who is realistic expects everything to be perfect. I guess it’s all upon what we want to defined as our own perfect. I for example can say my life is perfect and I can believe it and I can live it that way. Even if I was to given the task of writing down everything in my life that’s not perfect my list would be endless. You don’t choose not to focus on that. And so therefore I do not have the distressing problem of needing to be perfect.  Thank goodness.

Kids and perfectionism: You don’t need to be perfect.  

We need to let all children know that they do not need to be perfect. Why is it that so many children are so scared to try things because they want to do it perfectly. Why do  children punish themselves for not doing things perfectly and for not being perfect. What message are they receiving from adult influencers? If parents are not contributing to this perfectionism then what are parents doing to control it or reduce it? 

Make mistakes: this helps kids and perfectionism

I have asked the staff of my Child Care Centre‘s to make mistakes and be “OK” with them. I asked my staff to do boo-boos and it’s not the boo-boo that’s important, it’s the role modelling, the response, the reaction, and the behaviour that comes after that.  And in particular the language that follows. Because by this exercise alone the children learn. The children learn that it’s OK to make mistakes and to carry-on.

It’s OK to make mistakes and to learn from them. And it’s OK to make mistakes and have a giggle about it. It’s OK to make mistakes and decide to go back and correct them, and so on.  What I notice is that the kids look at us when we do our mistakes, they stop focusing on the mistake and instead focus on us and how we carry on after it.  Isn’t that amazing, from such young ages.  

The reason why I do this is because as a therapist I have many kids come through my door at the clinic scared to give anything new a try because they may make a mistake. This is really worrying. Life will be full of mistakes. We need to be OK with that. I certainly demonstrate this in my clinic and I see the kids really enjoy this message.

Be curious

I’ve become curious, where was that turning point when these children became afraid to make a mistake and lose the ability to cope with it. What contributed to this. These children are not related and yet there is a pattern, an external pattern that is common amongst this age group.

So KIDS you do not need to be perfect I don’t even think you know anybody that is perfect.  I certainly dont.

Kids and perfectionism: Perfect is your best version of you 

If you really must use the word perfect let me tell you that your definition of perfection could be that, of the best version of you.  There, you can go and be your perfect. The best version of you is always going to be good enough. Anything further is out of your control. And when something is out of your control, you can give yourself permission to be free of it.

Being the best version of you is very achievable. Isn’t it refreshing to know that, that’s all that you need to be.

Mistakes can lead to new opportunities! 

How many new discoveries have you made in error. Adults create new recipes from error. We find new locations by accident when taking a wrong turn whilst we are driving. We run into old friends when we walk to the wrong shop.

Have a think about what opportunities you’ve had by accident. I know people who have had opportunities of joining new sports teams just because they ran into someone by accident, or getting a new job for whatever mistake they made at the previous place of employment. They are all opportunities and the success of them depends on your attitude.

What mistakes actually bother you? Is it spelling mistakes? Well, let me tell you, you will be doing plenty of them in your time so be OK with that. Learn to edit your work. And still some spelling mistakes may slip through. Big deal.

Kids and perfectionism

Math mistakes? Math mistakes are often done. Especially during exams. You’ll be at an advantage if you get to do your math paper a second time around before the exam time is up, because you are so fast at it that you completed early because quite often as you double check your answers you find those silly mistakes that most people make.

Mistakes happen on the field as well when we’re playing sports. We miss goals and we miss targets. We miss the start, we miss the finish, these things happen. What’s worse  than these things happening, is how you react after they’ve happened. I remember a time when my sons teacher had a chat with him and said to him it’s not the thing that you do wrong, it’s not the fact that you are getting in trouble for something in particular, the problem is the way that you handle it after you get in trouble. This teacher thank goodness said it in such an insightful and appropriate way that my child took this on board and we learned from it.

Had this message been delivered differently my son would not have ever received its true value. The power of language… It’s an amazing tool, one we should always practice. I may say the same thing to 10 different children and I’m rather confident that most of them if not all may go back to their parents and demonstrate a different message that I delivered to them. Now there is nothing wrong with this, but it is a fine example of perception, interpretation, beliefs, and simply the way that we received information.

One may think that having high standards is a good thing, like good work ethic, and a strong character.  But this is not what I mean by kids striving to be perfect.  Some kids don’t attend parties because something about them is less than perfect.  Some kids won’t attend sporting events because they know they will not come first.  Yes we all know its not about coming first, but try telling the child that!

The environment: kids and perfectionism

It is important that parents /guardians provide unconditional care and respect to their child.  The child’s environment should be free of clutter, calm and structured enough to be comfortable.  It is important that siblings or friends (and even strangers) should not be compared.  Each child and their ability is unique.   Individual and specific praise is important.  And as it is a rising concern I also suggest we look at the language that we adults are using.  May I suggest less use of ‘perfect’, ‘genius’, ‘brilliant’ and anything relating to this.  Quite often it does more harm than good.  Even long term (not just during that moment).  

Let go of perfectionism

Perfectionism may come from the child’s environment, as well as what they are born with (as tendencies).  Excessive praise or demands are never helpful.  Extreme perfectionism needs to be carefully observed and addressed with a professional as it can be linked to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and more.  Now I don’t mean to distress you with this information but I wish for you to be aware.  Awareness is important for all areas of our lives.  So please if you are concerned for your child’s need of perfectionism, I urge you to seek professional help.

Some children who are extreme perfectionists have extremely high expectations of themselves, are self critical, conscious of them self, and suffer embarrassment rather easy.  Such kids may also not take criticism well, be guarded emotionally, and limit their socialising.  They may infect become rather critical of others too.  And then there are the unfortunate physical ailments or headaches that are very uncomfortable for the child.  So I hope you realise this extreme end here and take notice of behaviours, language and symptoms.

What can we do for our kids and perfectionism

So how can we help our children who are extreme perfectionists?  Provide unconditional respect and caring, be calm and offer an uncluttered environment.  Let them know that even if they fail, they are still loved and valued. In fact challenge their beliefs if they are using negative labels on themselves.  If they feel overwhelmed, help them to break tasks into smaller workable parts.  Teach them to learn from their mistakes.  If you find they are not getting started on their tasks, help them to move away from being perfect, and towards “finishing” their tasks.  Be available for support, this goes a long way.

Positive talk

Positive talk is a great skill to practice with your child, as they can take this technique and practice it on their own in their own time.  Self control is the best target to word towards.  We can’t assume that kids are aware of relaxation techniques.  Teach them, or remind them about the effects of deep breathing, counting slowly, listening to music, and even reading useful material to assist in their own relaxation, and whatever may work for them.  

Create opportunities for success to support self-confidence.  It’s a great idea to encourage group work with others, and promote a cooperative relationship.  Share your own mistakes with them, and encourage perseverance. Help kids deal with perfectionism.

Remember, as an adult you need to support your child, and you are also responsible for children all around especially if you are a teacher, for example.

I really hope you found this helpful.

Positive Living Skills has a great post on how we can let go of perfectionism.

Amanda Dounis

Positive Thinking Clinic

1/7 Magdalene Terrace

Wolli Creek, 2205

0458 850 850

This blog was originally published on 10.8.19 and updated 5.8.20