Perfectionism in Children

Parenting Tips for Dealing with a Perfectionist Child

It is hard raising children, period, but is especially difficult when their personalities clash with yours and/or each other's. One particular personality trait that is often hard to deal with is perfectionism. The perfectionist child gets into trouble with the teacher because he or she takes forever to do the work, trying to get it "just right". This is also the child who throws a tantrum because you don't make the sandwiches a certain way or because they can't tie their shoes "correctly". This child may not realize it, but he or she is a perfectionist, and it takes a unique parenting approach to raise such a child with a positive outlook on life.

There is nothing wrong with a perfectionist child. In fact, it is a good character trait to have, however challenging. It means the child is already bred to be a high achiever and will strive to make things happen. However, it may be frustrating at times to deal with the perfectionist child's quirks and constant self-esteem issues.

It is most important that you do not invalidate the child's feelings. Perfectionist children will not respond well to statements such as, "Oh, it's no big deal," or "No, do it this way". The perfectionist child has a picture in mind of how things are supposed to be, and to change that picture will take much coaxing and appealing to the logical part of the child's mind.

One way you can encourage flexibility early on with children is to be a model of imperfection. This may seem like an anti-parenting approach, but it is useful in showing that you are not perfect and make mistakes, and that's a natural part of life. This encourages perfectionist children to accept the mistakes they make and move on instead of getting "stuck" trying to do the same thing over and over to get it perfectly right.

The perfectionist child's problem may become most obvious in the school environment, so it may be necessary to schedule a parent-teacher conference to discuss your child's issues and how to deal with them. Be sure neither you nor the teacher patronizes the child or shows frustration with him or her, as this will only heighten the problem. Encouraging the child to discuss what in particular is bothering him or her and showing empathy for the child's own frustration will help calm the child down, relieve his or her fears and encourage him or her to move on.

It is an interesting balance training perfectionist children because you want them to be self-reliant but at the same time, you want to lessen some of the heightened perfectionist tendencies in their personalities so that life won't be so unnecessarily complicated for them later on. If you work with the child to keep his or her expectations realistic, he or she should grow to be a well-balanced adult.