How can I help my perfectionistic child?
Helping your child with perfectionism is tough, but not impossible. Here are some suggestions:
1. Constantly remind them of the truth.
The human brain is an amazing thing; if you tell it a certain message, over time, you will begin to internalize it. So make sure the message your child hears regularly—at least from you—is the truth. No one is perfect, and it’s okay not to be. The only thing that can reasonably be expected from them is their best effort.
2. Define “best effort” and “good enough.”
What does one’s “best effort” entail, though? For some, it may mean “working diligently for a reasonable amount of time and putting lots of thought into the task.” For others, especially maladaptive perfectionists, it may mean “working until it’s perfect or I have a mental breakdown.” Help your child define what a healthy, “best effort” looks like and when something is “good enough.” Make sure your child understands that they don’t have to do things perfectly to succeed; if your kiddo is a black and white thinker, they may legitimately believe they can either perform perfectly or fail miserably, with no in-between!
3. Provide plenty of time…within reason.
Nothing short of waving a magic wand is going to make your child change their perfectionistic tendencies overnight. So as you help them learn to let things go, give them plenty of time to complete tasks…but also put limits on that time so they can rest and avoid overdoing it.
4. Give them a visual way to gauge their progress at something.
I love this piece of advice from Bec Oakley! People with autism are often visual learners, so create a visual of some sort to help them see—literally see—that as they learn something new, they gradually begin to make fewer and fewer mistakes in it. This can help teach them that learning is a process, not an event.
5. Be an example.
When you make mistakes in your child’s presence, be sure to make note of it and tell them how you will learn from it or brush it off and keep moving.
6. Ensure you’re not accidentally reinforcing your loved one’s perfectionistic tendencies.
When your child succeeds at something, it’s easy to reward or shower praise on them for the success itself rather than the effort they put into making that success happen. For example: “Way to go! You did so well on that tests!” Praising the success itself can reinforce the idea that success—rather than the learning process—is the end goal of schoolwork, piano lessons, or any other task. So instead, say “You worked so hard to learn the subject matter!”
7. Be patient!
Borrowing from what I said earlier about learning, overcoming maladaptive perfectionism is a process, not an event.
If you are the perfectionist…
A lot of the tips I just mentioned are also applicable if you are the perfectionist:
- Continually remind yourself of the truth—that it’s okay to be imperfect.
- Stop yourself as soon as you realize you are having negative thoughts about your imperfections and replace them with more reasonable, balanced thoughts. It’s okay if you don’t believe them at first; just keep at it.
- Manage your time by keeping priorities in check. Some things in life deserve more effort and time than others; figure out what’s most and least important, and devote your resources to them accordingly.
- Give yourself deadlines if you spend too much time on certain tasks.
- Be patient with yourself.
Perfectionism can be tough to deal with—believe me, I know. But it is not a lifelong sentence; with diligent work, it can be overcome.