Advice from the Pros

Ideas and advice from people whose work or research has had an impact on children and parents.

How to Help a Pint-Size Perfectionist

How to Help a Pint-Size Perfectionist

It can be difficult to comfort a kid who wants to be perfect. The tips below may help you minimize the “but-it-has-to-be-perfect” problem.

You try to support your child in all her endeavors. But despite your efforts, your determined little doer belittles her own (and others’) less-than-perfect outcomes.

In fact, instead of feeling good about her own large and small accomplishments, she may worry, cry, or have a complete melt down if something she does isn’t completely amazing.

Is your child a perfectionist?

If the scenario above is familiar, you may be dealing with a pint-size perfectionist. Kids who seek perfection often feel anxious, angry, or upset about their mistakes and miscalculations. They may be easily thwarted, give up too quickly, or even behave in the opposite way and become overly cautious.  At a time when a child should try new things (and developing the skills to accomplish them), a pint size perfectionist’s unhealthy quest can make it hard to finish assignments at school or happily engage in extracurricular activities.

What can you do to help a child approach all her endeavors without the self-imposed pressure?

  • Choose your words wisely. Let your child know it’s great when he’s done his best but, at the same time, remind him he doesn’t have to be “the best” at anything. Avoid using terms like “perfect” and “brilliant.” They make kids feel they have too much to live up to.
  • Provide perspective. Be sure your child knows that being “very, very good” at something she enjoys is really pretty awesome. Point out that she can learn from mistakes as she figures out how to fix them. Use an astronaut, an athlete, or someone she admires as an example.
  • Share your story. Model a positive attitude and a healthy outlook about all your child’s achievements—without over-investing in their importance. Discuss setbacks you’ve faced and errors you’ve made, but avoid berating yourself for making them.
  • Encourage, don’t pressure. Let your child know its okay to set goals and try to achieve them. Don’t make a big deal over good grades, tests, perfect assessments, or A’s in general. Seek professional help if your child is prone to excessive worry, or if he is so hard on himself that it hinders learning.

—By Nancy Josephson Liff