Perfectionism in children
A perfectionist nature at any age can be debilitating. But when it strikes at a young age, it is even more crucial to help support that young person to navigate this behaviour, so that it doesn’t drag on to their teens and adult life and develop into further issues.
Sometimes being a perfectionist can be deemed to be quite admirable – it’s a term commonly used to refer to someone who is hardworking; a high achiever who strives for the very best. But perfectionism is more than that. It is “refusing to accept any standard short of perfection”, enough to stop someone in their tracks. In kids this can stop them from forming friendships, learning new skills, taking part in school, and enjoying games and sports. It can become anxiety-inducing and overwhelming, pushing themselves to set unrealistic goals, and becoming frustrated and self-critical when these goals aren’t achieved.
In short, it can be detrimental to children’s mental health and their overall wellbeing.
What does perfectionism in a child look like?
Reacts strongly when you encourage their participation
Refuses to go to new places, meet new people, or attend parties with large groups of people
Doesn’t take part in activities other children typically enjoy
Overly self-critical and hard on themselves or others
Sets unrealistic goals for themselves, constantly adding pressure to achieve
Has obsessive or repetitive behaviours
A mistake or something they feel hasn’t gone ‘just right’ results in big emotions
Reacts to perceived criticism with high sensitivity
Too scared to do something due to risk of failing
How can you support your child with their perfectionist nature?
Meditation and mindfulness can certainly help to give your child the skills and tools needed, to cope with the uncomfortable emotions and feelings perfectionism can bring, such as anger, frustration, sadness, and disappointment. It can help build their self-esteem and confidence when trying new things and help them to see tasks as process-oriented rather than outcome-based.
Using affirmation cards Fill a jar with affirmation cards, that you and your child can dip into daily. You can make your own, with positive words to help boost your child’s mood and self-esteem, or you can take a look at the many sets already out there to buy. I love the set by Kind Words for Kids. You can read the cards together or stick them on a mirror for them to say to themselves as they brush their teeth or comb their hair.
Gratitude practice Having a regular gratitude practice helps a child to see their day from a different perspective and helps to grow a more positive mindset. You can do this as part of teatime or bedtime routine, where they think of three things they are grateful for today, or they can do this as a journaling practice using a kid’s journal or simple notepad.
Colouring with non-dominant hand Colouring with your non-dominant hand is a good way to bring balance to our right and left brain. Our left brain is the logical side and right brain is the emotive and creative side. Colouring with our non-dominant hand also allows us to be more creative and joyful in our colouring, focusing less on getting a perfect outcome and learning that making mistakes can be good fun!
Silly dancing OK so not strictly a meditation or mindfulness practice as such, but it helps to have a giggle, let loose and show that not everything needs to be perfect. You can do this together and let your child see you being silly and not caring about how you look as you dance. It helps to model behaviour that is not so concerned with ‘getting it right’ and more about enjoying the process together.
Zendoodle or Zentangle One of my favourite finds – Zendoodling is the art of creating a piece of artwork from doodling. There are many different ways to do this, but my favourite for children is to guide them to draw a series of loops and swirls on the paper, not lifting the pen at any point. They can use the spaces created to doodle patterns and designs. There are no mistakes in Zendoodling, so is great for the perfectionist mind. It helps to free the mind from anxiety.
I hope some of these techniques help you and your child to find some relief from their perfectionist habits and thought processes. Please comment below if you find any of these particularly helpful, and share with anyone you think may benefit.