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My child thinks they need to be perfect

- Help them develop a healthy perspective

Things you can try

  1. Understand your child’s behaviour

    Wanting to do well is generally a good thing. But it can tip over into your child thinking they need to be perfect or fearing failure.

    Some children put themselves under a lot of pressure to get everything right or try to be the best at everything. For some, this is because they like doing difficult things and enjoy putting in the energy to achieve something that they are proud of. But other children may set unrealistic goals for themselves and believe that their best efforts are not good enough.

    These children are often unhappy and self-critical. This tendency is sometimes known as ‘perfectionism’. If trying to be perfect and fearing failure is too much, then it may start to affect how your child performs at school. They may become too scared to try, or it may affect how confident they feel with their friends.

  2. Show you care for them in ways that don’t relate to achievement

    Children who experience high expectations or demands of them may believe that nothing other than being perfect is ok.

    If a child is told they are loved only when they meet expectations, then they will need to feel perfect in order to feel loved.

    Children who are given excessive praise from parents or teachers can begin to think that their performance matters too much. When they are having a day when they are not able to be ‘amazing’, ‘fantastic’ or ‘outstanding’ they can feel that they are failing.

    Avoid telling your child they are ‘brilliant’, ‘a genius’, or ‘perfect’. Instead, make praise specific to a task, and praise effort more than achievement.

    Instead of saying, “What an amazing drawing!” you could try, “You worked so hard on your picture. Can you tell me about it?”.

  3. Help your child to set realistic goals for themselves

    Encourage activities that are relaxing and enjoyable and that have no sense of performance to them. And coach your child to say kind things to themselves such as, “I am proud of myself for X”.

    Remember that it’s normal to be anxious when learning how to do new things. You may need to show that making mistakes is normal and an opportunity to learn. You can do this by admitting your own mistakes and sharing what you learned from them.

    Model perseverance when there is something difficult to be done. And be supportive when your child is faced with disappointment.

  4. Be careful not to involve your child in your own feelings of competition

    It’s very easy to compare one child to another. But it’s important to avoid this. It can lead to even more pressure for your child.

    For instance, if you have a child who is gifted in one area, they may think that they need to be outstanding in all areas. They might try to be the best at all things and end up exhausted. Or they might deliberately underachieve to avoid the possibility of trying and then failing.

    You can help them in the following ways:

    • Encourage your child to say kind things about others and to praise others, especially those who are younger or less able than your child
    • Avoid being an adult who models perfectionism - a child will tend to do the same.
  5. Seek professional support.

    If your child’s ‘perfectionism’ is negatively affecting them, then speak to your child’s teacher, or the pastoral lead in your school, so that your child can be supported.

    If your child is not eating properly, or has other physical symptoms, then go to your GP and request some help.

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