Talking about perfectionism.
This morning I went live in my Facebook group: 'Katie's Classroom - Honest Parent Chat' (join me!), talking about perfectionism and how we can help our children, who strive to be perfect.
Please have a read below:
What does it mean if your child is a perfectionist?
If your child is a perfectionist they have very high, even impossible standards, of themselves, which are so unattainable they often can't meet them. This usually results in tears and sometimes rage.
Your child might also be obsessed with being perfect and always want to get things right first time and if they don't they will beat themselves up.
So often a child, who is a perfectionist, is highly self-critical and you might hear them call themselves "stupid" or "thick" from time to time - possibly even hit themselves. But they will also hate to be criticised.
What's the problem wanting to be perfect?
With perfectionism comes anxiety and your child might lack self-confidence and may have this need for constant reassurance.
Unfortunately, for a perfectionistic child, their entire self-worth can depend on their achievements, which isn't great for their mental health.
Enjoyment is hard to find because they can't live up to their own standards - games become problematic because they always want to win and things like homework become unbearable because they feel they should be getting everything right first time.
Weirdly, there is also a risk of underachieving. Often a child who is a perfectionist gives up too easily because they hate the feeling of making a mistake or getting something wrong.
Our personal experience...
So hands up...who has a child who is a perfectionist?
We do. Our Harry, who is 8, is a perfectionist. He strives to be perfect in a pretty unhealthy way. He always likes to do everything really really well, get it right first time, be the best, hates it when things go wrong and his emotions can be extremely extreme!
I think as parents we can put up with a little bit of perfectionism - I think every child wants to do well, get things right, hate when things don't go quite right but it's when the anger, frustration, anxiety takes hold and dominates the family dynamic.
Now this is really interesting! I read that often children who are perfectionists are pretty perfect anyway and without sounding weird, Harry is pretty perfect (on paper)...he does do well academically, he gets full marks on tests, he always tries his absolute hardest but with this comes more and more expectation for him to do well and it becomes a vicious circle.
It's a double edged sword.
What can we do to help?
Here are my 7 top tips:
1. Don't set any unrealistic expectations.
A lot of the time perfectionistic children are pretty perfect and they do things really well because they strive to, so sometimes the bar is already pretty high for them and because of this they are naturally put into high stressed situations or high academic environments because they can do it. As parents though, we want to make sure that those expectations aren't too high and causing additional stress. Most of the time, the drive to be perfect is coming from internally. It is typically not coming from parents. It is something a child can just have but that being said do not put on any additional stress if you can help it.
2. Go over the "what if" scenarios!
Ask them, what will happen if you don't get a good mark? What's the worst that can happen? Go through all the "what if" scenarios because normally what your child's anxiety is telling them and what is actually happening, the reality, are two totally separate things. So walk through those "what if" scenarios and by doing this you'll hear the source of your child's anxiety, which will help you process the reality verses anxiety's perfection.
3. Talk to them about how mistakes actually make us more perfect.
This is a conversation to have with slightly older children. Talk to them about how if you don’t allow yourself to make mistakes then you don’t grow. If you're not making mistakes then you're not learning. We learn by making mistakes. Talk to them about historical individuals: "Did you know how long it took Edison to make the lightbulb? He made 1000 lightbulbs before he was able to finally master the lightbulb. He just didn't call them mistakes. He called it steps." This will help children reframe their thinking. When we are less than perfect, that isn’t a bad thing because we learn from those mistakes. When we make mistakes we learn.
4. Point out your imperfections.
Don't strive to be perfect yourself. Give examples! From mistakes we can develop better routines and what to do and what not to do.
5. Try not to help them be perfect.
A tricky one but try and make things less perfect for them. A lot of the time we don't have enough time to be completely perfect. Just do what you can in the time given to you.
6. Personify their anxiety.
Make their perfectionism something outside of them. Your child has an anxiety and their anxiety is telling them that everything has to be perfect, you have to be on time and everything has to be awesome with no mistakes. When this happens tell them that we're going to name that problem, which is a struggle in itself because often if you want to be perfect, we need to realise no one is perfect. Call it Mr Perfect. Mr Perfect is bothering you again and this is ok. What do you tell yourself? Not Mr Perfect’s answer but what do you tell yourself? Name it and put it outside your child.
7. Don't put too much value on results, instead reward hard work.
Often if a child is a perfectionist they have a fixed, often rigid mindset. We want to develop them to have a growth mindset. So teach your child the power of the word "yet" - they haven't got there yet. Reward the effort, not the outcome and our Growth Mindset Cards are perfect for this. Buy them below. They will help.
There you go! That's my perfectionism chat. I hope the tips were useful. I would love to hear from you. Is your child a perfectionist? What are your experiences? Let me know!