Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Is your perfectionism harming your child's self-esteem?

I’ve been preparing a new workshop for the Manitoba Eating Disorder Prevention & Recovery Program on the topic of perfectionism.  The need to be seen as ‘perfect’ is linked to anxiety, poor body image, anger and shame in adults.  My workshop goal is to encourage our clients to overcome perfectionism in order to experience more joy and satisfaction from their achievements and relationships.

While reading and reflecting on perfectionism I was reminded of a mom I met a few years ago in another workshop.  I remember she was worried that she had put too much pressure on her daughter to do well at school, due to her own tendency to strive for perfection.  She noted that her daughter’s self-esteem seemed to suffer as a result and her interest in academics was slipping.

If you are a parent who also struggles with perfectionism - here are my thoughts on starting fresh with your kids for the school year ahead. 

Photo by Flickr Photographer: N.D. Strupler
Children's academic success is partially determined by the kind of expectations their parents set. Realistic expectations encourage kids to aim higher, without pushing them beyond their capabilities. Standards that are too high or seem unreachable can reduce their sense of competence.

When a child brings home a test with an A and is questioned on why it wasn't an A+, the message is that she is not good enough unless she never makes a mistake.  Part of learning and growth is making mistakes.  One problem with expecting perfection is that perfection is almost impossible to achieve.  Kids who strive for perfection may resist trying new things because they won't risk making mistakes.  Sometimes perfectionism actually causes homework or projects to pile up because of the feeling that it is never quite done, or will never be judged good enough.  Adult perfectionists often struggle with a significant amount of procrastination that hampers their achievements later in life.

It is important to consider what is developmentally appropriate for your child’s age but only as a guideline.  There may be areas where your son is advanced or behind what those guidelines would have you expect.  Start with where he is at and set goals together that reflect his desires and interests as well as your parental expectations.  If your daughter is already an excellent student, instead of pushing for even higher achievement, maybe it is time to help her grow in other ways such as new responsibilities at home or trying out for a team sport.

Striving for excellence instead of perfection has better results and makes room for growth. Start fresh this year with a heart to heart talk about how your child felt last school year and what each of you would like to be different this year. Encourage your kids to do their best and let them know you trust them to live up to that expectation.


  1. Do things and live life so that you impress yourself. There's only one way to elevate your self-esteem - earn your own respect.


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