Is Your Child a Perfectionist?

perfectionism Aug 22, 2022

Perfectionism - a great way to ruin an otherwise incredible life.

In our kids, it looks like: anxiety towards failing, self-consciousness, outbursts when making a mistake, high sensitivity to criticism, trouble making decisions, amongst many other symptoms. 

Perfectionism is a complicated topic and can lead to severe mental health issues if not addressed appropriately. Here are 5 (and a special surprise) ways you can help your kids get out of their own way if you identify any perfectionist tendencies in their behaviour. 


# 1 Model the 80/20 principle and talk about it openly

Simply put, the 80/20 principle states that 80% of output comes from 20% of effort. For example, in a farm 20% of the plants will produce 80% of the produce. The idea is to focus on the small number of things (the 20%) that make the biggest difference (the 80%) and try not to sweat the remainder of the stuff. Modeling this for your perfectionist kid, in everyday actions (cleaning a bathroom, making dinner, getting ready to go outside), will teach your kid to self-identify for themselves their 80/20 gauge so that they can better stop spinning their wheels and sweating the small stuff. 


# 2 Step out of the picture and allow them to fail

Failure. The scariest f word out there for perfectionists. As parents, we want to solve our kids' problems for them. It's natural: we have the solutions and they don’t so let’s just give it to them and move on. Though efficient, this inhibits our kids from learning. And failure is part of the learning process. In order to properly learn, we must be ready to fail often and without fear or judgment. So cut out the hovering, let your kids problem solve and build resilience at their own pace.


# 3 Practice healthy self-talk with them

Self-talk is as powerful as the words formed in our conscious state seep into our subconscious mind. Practice self-talk often enough that it becomes part of your kid’s psyche. Here are a few examples to help get you started: 

It’s okay that I did not meet the expectations that I previously had, I am still proud of everything that I’ve done and I know I did my best.

Even though I didn’t do everything that I wanted to do, I did enough to finish. Whatever I did not finish is not a reflection of my value. 


# 4 Focus on effort, instead of outcome

Watch how you respond to your kids when they confide in you. Words like “it’s okay, you can try harder next time” or “you should have done more” can be contributing to the narrative that perfectionism is the accepted standard of performance. Instead, aim for a growth mindset; you can do this by focussing on the outcome and spend more time talking about the effort that your child has put in. Let them be seen, encouraged and celebrated for their input and actions. 


# 5 Find role models outside of the home to help navigate these waters

Support your child by finding them resources outside of home and school to help them understand how to better see and deal with dangerous signs of perfectionism. To help you get started, we’ve compiled the following: 

  1. Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code talks about how girls are naturally steered to be perfectionists over boys who are steered towards bravery. 
  2. Charly Haversat, former SVP at both Citi Bank & State Street in Boston, is a recovering perfectionist and talks about her experience with breaking the chains of perfectionism in her personal and professional life. 
  3. Billy Zheng, a Grade 10 student, talks about recognizing the signs of perfectionism as he spends 95 hours on a 10 second video clip. 


BONUS TIP: what about you? 

If you’ve reached this part of the article, we know you are trying to be a model parent to your incredible kid and we commend you for it! A lot of the tips given here today are also a reminder for you in your personal and professional life. As parents, we need to break the cycle of unrealistic expectations and standards that are designed to fail. We hope that you apply some of these learnings to your own perspective. Your child needs you to be free of the chains of the perfection trap.

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