Parenting Solutions: Perfectionist
Never seems to feel "good enough" about his work, appearance, or performance; can't stand accepting second place; is intensely competitive to the point of its being unhealthy; self-esteem tied to grades, scores, and achievement
The Change to Parent For
Your child learns to cope with adversity, is less afraid to try new endeavors, and develops a healthier view of achievement.
Question: "My ten-year-old is second in her class, and it makes her nuts. She stayed up until one in the morning last night memorizing state capitals. I worry that if she keeps up this pace she'll have a nervous breakdown. What should I do?"
Answer: First applaud her effort for trying to do her best. But set a limit on how late she can work. Explain that nothing horrid will happen if she isn't always the best at everything. Most important, tell her again that you love her for who she is.
Of course we want our children to reach their potential and to excel. But often a child feels so much pressure that she becomes obsessed to an unhealthy degree with doing everything perfectly, leaving her feeling anxious, frustrated, and worried most of the time. "Will it be enough?" "What will others think?" And because these kids are never satisfied and always pushing themselves, frustration and heightened stress put them at serious risk for anxiety, depression, eating disorders, migraines, and even suicide. Perfectionists are more at risk for emotional, physical, and relational problems.31 This isn't just a big-kid problem. Even preschoolers are beginning to exhibit perfectionist behavior.
University of British Columbia: Professor Paul Hewitt found that although all perfectionists hold unrealistically high standards for themselves and others, they differ in how they show their perfectionism.34 Here are the three kinds of perfectionists:
- The self-promoter. Always attempts to impress others by bragging or showing off her perfection. This one is easy to spot because a self-promoter can annoy others and be a real turnoff.
- The shunner. This child fears failing (and being less than perfect), so she avoids situations or events in which she may be less than perfect. (She doesn't feel she could be the star soccer player, so she avoids the sport; she worries she could never be as perfect a violin player as her friend, so she takes up cello.) This is common with younger children.
- The quiet sufferer. This child keeps her problems to herself. She can't admit failure to others. She would never ask for help because it means she may not be good enough.
One Simple Solution
Of course always taking the quest for perfection to an extreme can take a toll on a child's emotional health as well as disrupt her life. So pay closer attention and seek the help of a mental health professional if you notice any of these reoccurring and debilitating behaviors:
Eating disorder: The child's concern about having the "perfect" body leads to an unhealthy preoccupation with food and eating, including self-induced starvation (anorexia nervosa), obsessive-compulsive eating, bulimia, and restrictive eating.32
Depression: The child's concern about achieving and being perfect are so extreme that she has difficulty eating, sleeping, and concentrating, and may begin to withdraw; the child appears apathetic, is excessively irritable and sad, and may have suicidal thoughts.33
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