Published on 20th July, 2019 by Dr. Sanveen Kang
There is a strong correlation between perfectionism and mental health difficulties. Research also suggests that perfectionism in young people is on the rise.
Children and young people with perfectionist tendencies tend to be harsh and unforgiving toward themselve.
Children who have perfectionist tendencies exhibit a continuum of behaviors. According to the Center for Parenting Education:
On one end of the spectrum are children who take pleasure from doing difficult tasks, setting high standards for themselves, and putting forth the necessary energy for high achievement.
On the other end of the continuum are those children who are unable to glean satisfaction from their efforts due to their preset, unrealistic goals. Since mistakes are unacceptable to them, perfectionism provides these students with little pleasure and much self-reproach.
The Center for Parenting Education further adds that perfectionism appears to result from a combination of inborn tendencies and environmental factors. These can include excessive praise or demands from parents, teachers or trainers, observation of adults modeling perfectionist tendencies, and from parental love being conditional upon the child's exemplary achievement.
Extreme perfectionism has been linked to performance and social anxiety, eating disorders, migraine headaches, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and suicide. When behavior of this type affects normal development and social relationships, these children need assistance.
The steps below are identified by Karen Young at Hey Sigmund. The full article balances practical advice with therapeutic sensitivity and is a worthwhile read.
In summary the following, the following steps have been identified:
Let it be about being brave, rather than being right/ brilliant/ excellent (because brave is all of those things).
Provide opportunities for failure.
Strip the power from their shame – and give it back to them.
Let their imperfect moments connect with yours.
Encourage self-compassion. It’s not the thought that does damage, it’s the way they respond to it.
Imperfection – it’s an unexpected buddy.
Here’s how I see you. (And I love what I see.)
How would you treat a little version of you?
Accountability for the consequences of perfection.
Remind them that they have the right to get it wrong as many times as it takes.
Children who suffer from extreme perfectionism need assistance from the adults in their lives. They may also need help from a professional therapist. The goal would be to reduce their perfectionist tendencies to the point of having them become an asset rather than a liability.