As parents, we want our children to strive for excellence. We hold high standards and encourage hard work. So it seems like perfectionism in children would be a good thing.
But there’s a darker side to perfectionism. One where children avoid new or unfamiliar activities and give up easily. Children who are perfectionists would rather quit than make a mistake.
Perfectionism can be relentless, and although it can be helpful, it can also be suffocating – and so exhausting!Karen Young, Hey Sigmund
What causes perfectionism?
A combination of genetic and environmental factors contribute to perfectionism. A 2015 study concluded that 23 percent of boys and 30 percent of girls inherit this trait. Environmental influences like parenting style account for the rest.
Perfectionism is also on the rise. Children today feel intense pressure from parents, teachers, coaches (and social media) to constantly prove their worth.
So how can we inspire our children to try hard, and still tackle challenges (even ones that could end in failure)? How can we teach children to enjoy the learning process rather than criticize themselves every step of the way?
There are plenty of ways to help your child gain courage and take healthy risks.
Check out these 6 simple strategies for helping children manage (and overcome) perfectionism and shift their mindsets!
1. Redefine success
Most of us think success means a positive outcome–the winning score or the highest grade. Unfortunately, we don’t always have control over how things turn out.
Children with a growth mindset define success differently. They recognize that effort and persistence lead to achievement. Even failure can be viewed as a natural and necessary step in the learning process.
Show your child how you define success by acknowledging their hard work and perseverance. When your child achieves a goal or successful outcome, tie it to their efforts (“You studied so hard for that test and look how great you did!”)
2. Talk about your mistakes
Children who are perfectionists won’t accept setbacks or failures easily. It’s up to you to show how it’s done.
Share your everyday mistakes and how you plan to resolve them (“I did not mean to dial that number. Let me hang up and start over.”) You can also discuss past errors, and what you learned from them.
If parents themselves are getting really freaked out and stressing about failure, kids pick up on that.Dr. Kyla Haimovitz
If a mistake causes you to lose your cool, consider it an opportunity. Take a moment to calm down, and talk with your child about how you’d handle things differently next time. Apologize if necessary, and show them how to move on from tough moments.
3. Practise winning and losing
When your child struggles to win every game, it’s normal to be a little concerned. Fortunately, competitiveness is natural (and even healthy) in young children.
At the same time, peer relationships benefit when children accept wins (and losses) with grace. Children are more likely to want to play with peers who show good sportsmanship.
Begin by teaching these skills at home. First, consider activities where there are no winners (dress up or art projects) and cooperative games where the family works together towards a common goal.
Help your child understand that winning isn’t everything by emphasizing the real goal – simply doing your best.Karen Horsch
4. Focus on the process (not the product)
Children don’t progress at the same time or in the same way. Focus on the learning process to keep them from negative comparisons.
The process is about being able to have enough resilience to know that if you make a mistake you can fix it, that you might have to persevere…but it’s worth it because you will in fact get it right, you will in fact sort out what it is that you wanted to do.Susan Just, Principal at Lauriston Girls’ School
Emphasize moments of learning (“I like how you’re mixing those colors”) versus the end result (“What a beautiful painting!”). Help your child savor the moments of fun they’re having without attachment to the end product.
When it’s all finished, try not to make a fuss about the final product. Instead, ask questions like (“Did you have fun doing that?” and “What was your favorite moment?”)
5. Encourage self-compassion
Perfectionistic children tend to be harsh and self-critical. They put enormous pressure on themselves to reach their goals.
Studies show that self-compassion is key to overcoming these traits. The practice of self-compassion lets children treat themselves as they would a dear friend–with kindness.
The next time your child is struggling with perfectionism, encourage them to consider the following questions:
- What would a good friend say to me about this?
- What is a different way I could look at this?
- How would I help a friend with this problem?
- What would make me feel better right now?
Self-compassion is associated with physical and mental benefits, from reduced anxiety and depression to greater resilience. Talk with your child about these positives, and how tough moments are an opportunity to practice kindness towards ourselves.
6. Do brain exercises
Just as our muscles get stronger with exercise, so do our brains. Children with a growth mindset know that facing challenges lets their brains grow and learn.
One good activity to do is called Double Doodle, wherein your child will draw an image using both his or her hands. Aside from training your kid to be ambidextrous, this activity also helps him or her improve spelling accuracy, basic mathematical skills, and recognition of symbols.
Talk with your child about how each new experience means our brains make key connections. If a task is too easy, the brain loses out on the opportunity to get stronger.
Many fun exercises can help your child grow her brain. Laughing, playing music, and solving riddles are all ways to spark new learning.
Encourage your child to journal about the challenges and obstacles she tackles, and how her brain grows from it!
Perfectionistic thinking is associated with fearing mistakes and avoiding new or difficult activities. But with a little practice, children who are perfectionists can learn to overcome this quality. Support your child in developing self-compassion, and viewing setbacks as opportunities to improve. And remember to model acceptance of failure and mistakes in your own life.
Today’s post was contributed by Alexandra Eidens. She is the founder of Big Life Journal, an engaging resource of journals for teens to help them develop a resilient growth mindset so they can face life’s challenges with confidence.