The perils of perfectionism? Isn’t it a good thing to want to do things well?
Don’t we want kids that strive for great things? That try their hardest to succeed? To feel the satisfaction of attempting something and conquering it?
Yes, but only if they can keep it in perspective and not have their every attempt blighted by the need for a perfect outcome.
Being a perfectionist can be really quite difficult and even debilitating.
Some of the perils of perfectionism are:
The perfectionist can become immobilised: unable to make decisions or give things a go for fear of not executing it perfectly or making the right decision.
The perfectionist can procrastinate: lose valuable time and experience due to indecision. Learning experiences can happen less regularly as they grapple with the decision making process.
The perfectionist can only see black and white: they see the world in absolutes. A lack of ‘grey areas’ can result in limited flexibility and adaptability. They sometimes find it harder to make compromises.
The perfectionist can be judgemental: the desire for perfection can result in them being overly critical of themselves and of others.
So it can be rather debilitating. And it often requires a fair amount of effort to keep oneself from perfectionistic tendencies, or as Rudolf Dreikers refers to it as “the courage of imperfection”.
So what to do if you see some of these tendencies in your offspring? Or indeed if you know this is you yourself? How do you ensure you are not passing on your perfectionistic ways to your little darling?
Try these tips:
Encourage risk taking and don’t shy away from failure: keep trying got get them to ‘have a go’, play a game with them and don’t try and make them win! Get them to try things out of their comfort zone and celebrate the ‘trying’ as the win.
Let them see you fail at things but be ok with it: point out your own failures in a way that focuses on the learning you experienced as a result. Don’t be afraid to let your kids know you make mistakes and that they are a normal & necessary part of life and learning.
Focus on contribution and a role in the community: volunteering, being part of a team or group is a great way to help kids know that the burden of responsibility is often shared by many. It is often hard to do things ‘perfectly’ when many are involved, but it is the overall outcome and collaborations that need to be celebrated.
Encourage sharing of goods, toys, space etc. It sounds simple, but sometimes letting kids know that others can use their things or share their time or space can be a good way for them to understand others ‘spoiling’ their idea of perfection is not always bad, but a reality of life.
Encourage compliments, both the giving and the receiving. Compliment their ability to try new things, the process of doing things rather than the outcomes and encourage them to find things in others that are worth complimenting. They may come to see that things that are worth celebrating do not necessarily have to be perfect.
It can be really tricky and often times frustrating raising a child who is a ‘perfectionist’. As we know however, the world is not ever perfect. Everything we do cannot ever be perfect. Some just need a little more encouragement to realise this, in order to be confident and resilient in taking on challenges, without getting so caught up in the outcome.
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I think we may have one! I’m really mindful of showing him when I make mistakes and emphasising the importance of having a go but I love the ideas around contribution and the courage of imperfection too.
We have a children’s book called “Ish” by Peter Reynolds that really communicates the idea that everything doesn’t have to be perfect in visual terms which we found helpful when ours were younger – we still refer to it now.
I have 2 children who do not cope very well if they are not succeeding as they believe they should and hate to admit they are wrong. If I look back to myself at their age, I was very similar and put myself under unnecessary stress. With all the outside influences children experience these days, internal stress to be perfect should not be one of them.