Tag Archives: perfect

Are we teaching our children to be perfectionists?

We have heard it our whole lives and now we are saying it to our children: “practice makes perfect.” In our minds we are encouraging our children to keep trying. We are telling them they will get better at a task the more they give it a shot. We are teaching them to not give up. But our children are hearing they need to be perfect, they should be perfect, there is no room for failure. 

I started thinking about this when my own daughter, at the young age of five, starting showing signs of being a perfectionist. She wanted to do everything perfectly and was highly frustrated when things failed. She saw herself as a failure. As a parent that was hard to witness. I knew she was just learning and through practice she would get better, but as with all things in life there was bound to be some failure along the way. 

A Hard Road

The life of a perfectionist is not an easy one. It is a hard road full of feelings of loneliness, sadness, and anxiety. The reality is that nothing is perfect so to task ourselves with such lofty expectations is exhausting.

So rather than continuing to tell our children that “practice makes perfect,” perhaps we may want to change it to “practice makes easy.” I mean that is really what we are trying to say anyway, right?

If you have a child who is showing signs of being a perfectionist there are some things you can do to help:

  • Provide your child with unconditional care and respect.
  • Try to keep their environment calm and structured.
  • Give lots of praise.
  • Avoid comparing your child to others.
  • Stay away from words like genius, brilliant, or perfect.
  • Help them to understand everything cannot be perfect.
  • Listen to them, talk to them.
  • Help them set realistic standards.
  • Let them know they are loved.
  • Provide them with opportunities to succeed and improve self-confidence. 
  • Explain to them that failure is an opportunity for growth.

The best thing you can do for your child is to let them know you are proud of them for trying their best, that is really the only thing we have control over, right?

The loneliness of being a perfectionist

It is hard to be perfect. In fact, it is impossible for everything we do to turn out exactly the way we want it to. It is impossible for everything to be perfect, leading to an immense and overwhelming sense of pressure for a perfectionist.

Being a perfectionist means always striving to be the best at everything. To be on the top, at the pinnacle, and it is a very lonely place to be. There are many different kinds and combinations of perfectionists with two of the big ones being: overt and covert. 

Overt vs. Covert

The overt perfectionist has a strong want for order around them at all times. They have anxiety when things get chaotic and tend to want to always be “right.” The overt perfectionist fears failure and therefore won’t try things they might not be good at. They want to do everything they can to not lose control and believe abilities are pre-determined and not able to be developed. (SOURCE: huffingtonpost.com; Smith, A.W. (2013). Overcoming Perfectionism. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.)

The covert perfectionist often hides their perfection actions and thoughts. They have low expectations of those around them and act as if they want to be average or carefree but secretly want to the be the best. The covert perfectionist may choose to underachieve to avoid the pressure or competition with those that might be better at something. (Smith, 2013)

Regardless if you are a covert, overt, or a combination of both, the inner struggle of a perfectionist can be overwhelming. And, it is made even more difficult by the fact that those around us often find it hard to relate. Our peers have difficulty empathizing and understanding the frustration, the NEED to be the best. 

The perfectionist is often told to “get over it,” “no one is perfect,” “try harder next time,” or “it is not a big deal.” The result often leads to more mental stress, to depression, anxiety, and difficulty maintaining relationships. Our society views perfectionism as a positive quality. It leads to success in business and life, but there is a happy medium. There has to be a way to try hard, to work hard, but to also accept and let go when things don’t go as planned. When we study and study and study for the test and there are questions we still are not ready for, we need to accept we tried our very best and maybe next time we will take a different approach. 

If you are one of those people who consistently struggle with the urge to be perfect and to be on top, then it can be helpful to receive help from a mental health professional. Talk to someone who can not only understand why you feel the way you do but to help you with skills to curb these feelings and help you to live a healthier, happier life. Frequently clients also find it helpful to be in support groups, to find people who do know how to empathize with your feelings, to help you know you are not alone.