When you think of perfectionism, children may not be the first people who come to mind. After all, we often associate perfectionism with workaholic adults, detail-oriented and hard-to-please relatives, and home decorating gurus. But these types of people didn’t just wake up like that one day. Their perfectionism often has roots in childhood.
The reality is that many children are perfectionists and it affects their everyday lives. In fact, the number of children and teens struggling with perfectionism is rising in our society.
If your child is a perfectionist, please know that it is often a very painful, distressing situation for them. It’s important to know what childhood perfectionism looks like, why it’s detrimental, and what you can do to help.
Hyper Focus on Mistakes
Maybe you’ve seen your child become extremely upset over what seems like a small mistake to you. Perfectionistic children often become anxious and overwrought when they miss one answer on a quiz or get less than an ‘A’ on an assignment. This is true even of elementary school children.
No matter how much you try to reassure them, they continue to obsess about making mistakes. This habit fosters anxiety.
Beating Themselves Up
Unfortunately, kids who struggle with perfectionism tend to have a low opinion of themselves. They’ve set the standard for themselves so high that they feel like they can never measure up.
This often looks like having very negative self-talk. They may talk about how they’re worthless or compare themselves to other children. It hurts you to see them like this, and it hurts them, too.
Downplaying Their Successes
Even when a perfectionist child scores high on an exam, wins an athletic competition, or receives recognition for other performances, they often downplay these successes. No matter how much you praise them, they brush it off. You may notice that they say it was a fluke or that it was just luck.
Unfortunately, this breeds self-doubt and insecurity.
Refusing to Try New Things
Perfectionism can steal so much from children. They often lose out on experiences and new adventures because they’re afraid to try something new. They worry that they’ll fail and won’t be able to do something perfectly, no matter if it’s their very first time.
You hate to see your child’s world become smaller and more limited.
Perfectionism Can Lead to Mental Health Disorders
After reading the painful ways in which perfectionism can affect your child, you’re probably not surprised to know that it can lead to other issues. When a child is a perfectionist, they often end up turning inward and ruminating on what they perceive to be their failures.
Over time, this hyper focus on being perfect can exacerbate the anxiety these kids often feel. It can turn into full-blown anxiety disorders that limit their lives even more. Refusing to take risks can limit their future.
Likewise, the negative self-talk and self-doubt of perfectionism can contribute to depression during childhood, adolescence, and the young adult years. It interferes with making friends and participating in group activities.
Helping Your Child
If you notice perfectionistic tendencies in your child, it’s important to address them. But being critical, lecturing them, or punishing them will only make matters worse.
Instead, treat them with empathy and kindness. Teach them that failure is an everyday part of life and is the way we grow.
If perfectionism continues to be an issue for your kid, you don’t want to let it get larger. The therapists at our office specialize in working with children. We are skilled at identifying the factors that contribute to childhood struggles and able to create a plan to help them overcome them. Please call our office to learn more.