Tidy rooms, good grades, and worried mamas. It seems like an odd trio, but for many moms, learning how to help a child who is a perfectionist is a real concern.
A slew of misconceptions about perfectionism and a world exploding with love of mediocracy has resulted in a grey area a mile wide between unhealthy perfectionism and a healthy strive for excellence.
I believe a collective exhale awaits you and there are a handful of simple truths to provide clarity and hope for this parenting concern.
7 Truths for How to Help a Child Who is a Perfectionist
Striving for excellence is healthy.
Often, outside influences morph a simple trait into a whole complex identity by assigning it a label that sticks. Being disappointed for getting one problem out of ten wrong because your child really wanted that 100% is not necessarily perfectionism, nor is it unhealthy. It is improbable that she’ll grow to feel inferior from this type of behavior. Societal norms press us to believe that we have to be completely comfortable in mediocracy, so we never risk feeling bad about ourselves. This philosophy has never produced good results and pushes people’s self-worth lower.
Lean into who she is.
As her mom, you are concerned about your kiddo’s well-being. That concern, however, can quickly turn to fear. Parenting from a place of fear isn’t a good position to be in. God created your child on purpose, for a purpose and this strive for excellence is likely a significant part of that. Verbalize how grateful you are that God created her just the way she is. Let her know you love that she wants to make excellent grades and that you would love her just the same if she got half the problems wrong.
Children believe what their parents say about them. Unequivocally. Parents are a child’s first glimpse at the love of God. The way He parents His children is a perfect example of the ideal authoritative parenting approach. He will not let us sit comfortably in our sin and, as such, is always stretching us to seek Him more, learn more about Him, which itself is a strive for excellence. Equally so, He knows we cannot achieve perfection in our humanity, so He provided Jesus to make us perfect. Teach your child those things with the same level of truth you teach that life requires breathing. It is absolute.
When he gets upset or discouraged for not meeting his own expectations, what he needs most from you is simply a hug, a snuggle, and an “I see that you’re hurting/upset/mad and I am sorry. I love you. I’m here for you, and I think you’re fantastic. Maybe you’ll meet your goals next time. And even if you don’t, it’s alright because your worth and your identity are in Jesus, not your accomplishments, so it is OK!” Don’t withhold the biblical truth and words he needs in the moment because of his age. There is no junior Holy Spirit. God’s word will never return void and can always, always do more for our children than we can.
Maintain firm, consistent boundaries.
Though it may seem strait-laced children need less control and regulation than their free-spirited counterparts, their bend towards excellence require structure, boundaries, and discipline to the same degree that carefree children do. Sometimes more so. A young girl compelled to “parent” or “adult” younger children must know clearly and concisely that she is not the parent and is not to act as one. Allowing kids to do so throws off the expectations for their cognition and maturity and creates unhealthy habits.
By letting him know you see and appreciate his efforts to do well, the edification he receives from the merits of his effort will outshine the disappointment of losing that perfect A. Additionally, be conscientious not to overly praise performance. Although it is completely acceptable to tell him how proud of him you are when he does well. You do not need to avoid praise altogether. Simply keep it balanced, and when in doubt, tip the scales in favor of praising effort.
He won’t always achieve the levels of success he desires. The focus should not be training him to strive for excellence less, but to train him the necessary processing and coping skills he needs for when he doesn’t get the result he wants. A very simplified step-by-step for this is to a) teach him simple breathing exercises to use when he’s upset, b) teach him to go to God before anything else c) teach him how to move past the experience. Which means you can’t dwell or swim in the experience either. Move on together.
How to Help a Child Who is a Perfectionist Happens in the Heart
Three biblical parenting principles apply in every situation, for every child, with every family. Children require training, discipline, and secure connection. Those three principles are found repeatedly in scripture as a beautiful roadmap for raising well-adjusted, great, and godly kids. Your little overachiever has big things in store. Give her the freedom to operate in the fullness of who she is while providing the safe and healthy parameters she needs to thrive.