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How to manage perfectionism: 4 ways to stop it taking hold

Is your child under the grips of perfectionism? Are they held back by their perfectionist tendencies and are you struggling to find a way to free them?

For many, there are some positive attributes associated with being a perfectionist, such as being intrinsically motivated, striving for success and being self-reflective. However, we are all too familiar with the more negative attributes such as a fear of failure, procrastination, anxiety, a refusal to take risks and a self-critical inner voice.

Here are 4 ways we can try and alleviate the toxic side of perfectionism:

1) Let your child get things wrong

A golden opportunity for this is homework. When your child completes their homework it is healthy to encourage them to check their work, yet how often do we keep sending them away until they have identified and corrected every single error? Consider how this supports the message ‘Your best isn’t good enough unless it’s perfect’. Allow your child to try their best, check their work and hand it in as is. Your child’s class teacher will in fact gain more of an insight by seeing any remaining errors rather than a heavily corrected, perfect piece of work.

2) Pick something your child is not naturally good at

It’s good to boost our children’s confidence and self esteem through giving them activities we know they will be good at, but what if we only ever put them in front of experiences we know they will thrive in? They never learn to get comfortable with discomfort or the idea of not being good at something straight away. Think about the extra-curricular activities you seek for them or things you experience as a family, could there be scope to try things that you know your child might initially find hard?

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3) Reflect on the questions you ask

Where did you come in the race? Did you score a goal? Did your team win? Did you get 10/10 in your test? All of these questions are well intended but might be supporting that implicit message that success = perfection. Instead, we can think of questions and comments which support the idea that success is not solely measured by the outcome but also by hard work, resilience and responding to feedback. This might sound like ‘Which was the hard part of your test?’ ‘Did the team listen to feedback and adapt? Do you feel you tried your best? ‘What mistakes did you make and how did you learn from them?

4) Empower your child by encouraging them to own their mistakes

Perfectionism is often about control and perfectionists can feel deep shame and embarrassment about the mistakes they have made. Encourage your child to try and ‘own’ their mistakes as much as they own their successes. Being ‘found out’ for getting 3/20 in your test might be hard to swallow but if you choose to tell people you got 3/20 in your test and explain you found it challenging or maybe you realised you didn’t practice as much as you could have done, this feels more empowering and dissipates some of the ‘shame’. A good place to start with this idea is modeling; talk about your own mistakes and show your child how you own them rather than hide them away.

Perfectionism isn’t something that can be tackled overnight. Try making small changes as a family based on the 4 ideas above and see if you notice a difference in the way your child feels about success and failure.

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  • What is perfectionism?
  • Is it always a bad thing?
  • What can I say and how can I respond to my child to help them let go of their perfectionist tendencies

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