Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing perfectly.
In life we should strive for success, aspire to do great things and be conscious of reaching our full potential. When this desire for greatness becomes about finding perfection however, it can soon turn from something that motivates, into something that immobilizes.
How do you know if your children are ‘perfectionists’ and what can this mean for them and those around them?
Perfectionists Procrastinate– for them nothing is ever good enough and hence they are put off starting a project or attempting a new endeavour for fear of them not being able to execute it perfectly. The perfectionist is often left always waiting for the perfect conditions, the perfect timing, the perfection of skills etc. The perfectionist becomes an observer rather than a participant and therefore misses out on many challenges and learning experiences.
Perfectionists must plan everything– they leave very little to chance and pay great attention to detail. Whilst this is certainly a positive attribute for many, for the perfectionist it can lead to anxiety and feelings of frustration and failure when things go awry or circumstances beyond their control change their plans.
Perfectionists see the world in black and white – there is no room for grey areas, but rather the perfectionist is governed by absolutes. This can mean they become judgemental and opinionated and critical both of themselves and others.
So how can you help your child who is showing signs of perfectionist behaviours?
The American Psychologist Rudolf Dreikers refers to it as “the courage to be imperfect”. It often takes a lot of work to accept our faults and avoid putting pressure on ourselves to be more than we are capable. So to get in early and help make this easier, here are a few things we can do with our children to equip them with some strategies to help them cope with these ideals of perfectionism.
- Focus on Contribution: teaching our kids early to look outside the self in order to make them see that small contributions no matter how grand or imperfect can make a great difference to others. Encourage them to take part in household chores, volunteer for organizations and community and let them experience that feeling of making a difference that has more to do with participation and less to do with achievements.
- Encourage risk-taking and failure: let them see early on that they can cope when things don’t end how they planned. Don’t always let them win the games. Encourage races where they are not always going to win. Give them tasks that are a little beyond their capabilities and let them see that they can cope. They need to know that it is OK to attempt things even when there is a good chance it may not end how they want.
- Encourage sharing of possessions and space: for the perfectionist, having other kids invade their space and ‘muck up’ their toys can be frustrating and lead to anti-social behaviours. From an early age therefore it is important to encourage socialisation so that they see that even if their toys get rearranged, they can later be packed up and their space once again rearranged to their liking.
- Encourage the giving and receiving of compliments: perfectionists need to know that a deed doesn’t always have to be executed perfectly to warrant an appraisal or compliment. Make them aware of others attempts at things, and encourage a focus on the deeds, the participation and the smaller achievements.
And of course role modelling these sorts of behaviours ourselves is the best way possible for our children to learn to cope with some of the challenges that they may face.
And as Confucius says “Better a diamond with a flaw, than a pebble without”