Tips to avoid passing down perfectionism |

Tips to avoid passing down perfectionism

Baihly Warfield
Updated: September 15, 2021 10:38 PM
Created: September 15, 2021 09:41 PM

Class is in session, fall sports have begun, and that can mean lots of pressure on kids. 

Sometimes, the pressure to be perfect comes from social media or peers. But other times, it's parental. 

"People who tend to be more perfectionist tend to have kind of rigid thoughts about expected outcomes for tasks," UMD Associate Professor of Psychology Kathy Dowell said. 

Dowell said perfectionists also may lean away from trying things they think could lead to failure. 

"When it becomes a problem, it's like failure almost becomes a threat," she said. 

If that's how a parent feels, kids can pick up on it. Or maybe parents are outwardly expressing high expectations for their student. 

"As parents, we always want our kids to succeed," Dowell said. "I mean, I'm a parent, and I am happy when my kids do something really well. But I also know that that's not possible all the time. I don't do things well or perfect all the time."

To pick up on perfectionist tendencies, you can ask: 

  • Am I or my child overthinking mistakes?
  • Do I or my child self-blame when things don't go well? 
  • Do I or my child avoid things that might lead to failure? 

Perfectionism can lead to anxiety. Dowell said younger kids may express that with lots of crying and being highly dependent on their parents. Older kids may internalize it but have a hard time moving on from mistakes. 

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She recommends parents first make sure what you're asking or expecting of your child is age-appropriate for where they're at developmentally. And she suggests reinforcing the importance of trying. 

"Confidence in the effort, not in the outcome. So parents saying, 'I just want you to give it a try. I just want you to get out there and see what it's like, try something new,' rather than, 'I want you to do it to win or I want you to do it to be the best,'" Dowell said. "I think that that misses the bigger developmental gain out of that activity."

She also thinks admitting mistakes and modeling failure sets kids up for success. 

"Being able to be who you are, flaws and all, and know that you'll be loved and cared for by your family members is way more important than achieving any particular outcome," she said. 

A family counselor can help if:

  • Perfectionism is getting in the way of accomplishing things
  • You can't sleep
  • You can't focus on other tasks
  • You're having persistent negative feelings about yourself


Baihly Warfield

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