Raising perfectionist kids

By Lynn Tan, Ling Tan, LPC Texas Registered Counselor

If you ask any parent the question, "Do you want a child who always strives to be perfect?" the answer is usually yes.However, parents of perfectionistic children may feel differently.They know the inner pressures their children often face.Perfectionistic kids strive for perfection in everything they do — including getting perfect grades, being the best in sports, music, or friendships.However, this expectation of perfection comes at a price.Stanford professors have coined the term "duck syndrome" to describe students who look perfect on the outside, but emotionally struggle with the stress of academic topmost demands.They look like ducks skiing calmly on the lake, while their feet make quick and desperate strokes underwater.

Listed below are some of the behavioral and emotional problems observed with perfectionistic children.These signs are taken from Dr. Sheila Achar, psychologist and anxiety specialist, Helping Your Anxious Teen.

● Often sets unrealistic goals and standards
● very frustrated with small mistakes
● Panic before or after an exam due to fear of failure
● not trying new things for fear of failure
● will not tolerate any criticism
● trying to create a “perfect” impression on others
● Self-criticism, nervousness, or worry even when doing well
● not easy to bounce back from poor performance
● Often procrastinates, very indecisive
● work until exhaustion to achieve perfection
● Excessive double-check work

If you, your spouse, or your children show any of these signs, you may be dealing with a perfectionist in your home.It is important for parents to recognize these symptoms in their children first.Children often learn from the example set by their parents' perfectionistic behaviors and attitudes.Perfectionism in children is caused by several factors.These factors include the child's personality, being rigid or coming from a controlling family, and the makeup of a school environment that overemphasizes high achievement.

What can parents do to help their perfect child?First, parents can address their own symptoms of perfectionism.Parents can reflect on their own experiences and recognize the times in their lives, when they learned from their mistakes, and when God may have used imperfections to bring good in their lives.As a counselor, I recall my early days working as a public school teacher struggling and failing in my first job.God used that struggle in my life to redirect me into the realm of counseling.Around the same time I lost my teaching job, the Dean of Dallas Theological Seminary visited my church to share a new counseling program that was looking for new students.As the Bible says, in Romans 8:28, "We know that God does everything for good to those who love him, to those who are called according to his purpose" (NIV).Parents can also share personal stories of how God has used their mistakes and imperfections to bring about good things.

When parents make mistakes, instead of hiding it right away, let the children witness their mistakes and set an example for a better way of handling them. Parents can show their shortcomings in the children's face. Cooking with a pinch of salt or admitting you don't know the answer to a question.When children see that their parents can accept imperfection, they also absorb the message that they can be imperfect.

Here are other techniques parents can practice with their children to help them cope and reduce perfectionism:

● Help your child focus on getting homework done rather than getting a perfect grade
● Praise effort rather than achievement, eg. "For that B, you worked hard!"
● If you notice your child is procrastinating, encourage him or her to keep trying, just 5 minutes
● After the performance, help your child identify areas for improvement and good work.
● Don't try to solve all problems for your child - let them fail and learn from them
● Share stories of other imperfect but valued characters – the Bible is full of imperfect characters God loves!

Most importantly, parents can remind their children of the greatest story of all time, the life of the perfect man, Jesus Christ.He is the Son of God and he is the only man in history who has never been wrong!Yet he still grows from his experience.He also performed many miracles and healed the imperfections of others.Although he was perfect, he sacrificed his life on the cross, shed his blood, and took the punishment for our sins—all our rebellion, imperfection, and mistakes—on Himself.The imperfect child can take comfort that if he accepts Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, then God no longer sees his faults and imperfections.Instead, God saw the perfection of Christ in that child.Of course, we all continue to make mistakes, and so will your children.But if they became children of God by faith in Jesus, they would have God to help them grow and learn from their mistakes: "So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid' Jobs 13:6 (NIV).

While there is nothing wrong with placing high hopes on our children and ourselves, it is important to help teach our children that our true worth does not depend on perfection.In fact, growth mindset researchers have found that children who operate with the mindset focus more on growth, learning, and improvement—rather than perfection—and live more successful, emotionally healthy and balanced lives Life.

For lecture recaps on this topic, please visit cchhouston.org And look for the "How to Help the Perfect Child" workshop under "Lecture Review".