How to handle a child’s perfectionism
Tips to Help a Perfectionist Child
As a school counselor for twenty years, I often heard from teachers and parents who were coping with a perfectionist student. Intelligent and capable of high quality work, this is often a child who dissolves into tears or a tantrum when they don’t perform a task perfectly or if another student interferes in some way with their assignment. How does this mindset show up in the classroom and at home?
- Unrealistic expectations for themselves and others
- Frequent meltdowns when something doesn’t meet their standard
- Difficulty in relationships with others who don’t follow and meet their expectations
Often a perfectionist child is a “C” personality style according to the DISC. They can be cautious, careful, conscientious, correct, and consistent. They are highly motivated to be right and follow the rules. More of an introvert than an extrovert, they are task focused, like tradition or routine and will stick with something until it is completed.
Perfectionist students tend to see the world as black and white and are often impatient with other’s perceptions that are different from their own. Consequently, they can be very hard on themselves and fellow classmates when their high standards aren’t met. Quality and details are important to them, so they may become stressed when rushed or pushed. When making decisions, they like to gather the facts and do things correctly. However, decision making can be interrupted altogether as this perfectionist bent can lead to analysis paralysis.
Helping a perfectionist child worry less and accomplish more
There are a number of strategies for helping a perfectionist child become less anxious and more productive:
- Re-frame mistakes as a learning opportunity and not failure. Actually encourage them to make mistakes regularly and often as a way to reach their goal. Share examples of famous people and the mistakes they made that eventually resulted in achievement.
- Praise effort, especially imperfect action, not the end result. Too often we reward only perfectionism, (the home run, the straight A report card) and fail to recognize the effort involved in any accomplishment, even ones that fall short of the mark. Instead, focus on the intention and the struggle involved in accomplishing small gains and baby steps.
- Help them focus less on themselves and more on others. This is often a child who becomes so caught up in the details of accomplishing a task that they lose sight of relationships and the feelings of others. Help them tune in to their own emotions as well as those of others so they can develop quality relationships.
- Teach them positive self-talk. Since they are good at reflection and examination, teach them to pay attention to the messages they tell themselves. Help them develop positive messages that serve them better and help them accomplish more.
- Celebrate their many gifts and talents. Always focused on action and accomplishment, this is a child who can benefit from opportunities to celebrate, play and enjoy the lighter side of life.
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