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2 Ways to Prevent Perfectionism from Developing in your Children…

I was sitting in the rocking chair in my son’s room watching my kids play with the fresh sheets and blankets they pulled off his bed onto the floor to make forts, chairs and a pretend campsite. And I observed my thoughts.

This is how my thoughts and feelings process went:

“Agghh… clean sheets. Dirty floor. Not hygienic. They have to sleep in those…! Distress, distress!”

Tightness in chest, jaw and sides of my face happen as my amygdala kicks in…


My mind wonders: “It’s just sheets Ashley. It’s not like they’re taking the sheets and rolling around in the dirt… Hmm. I wonder what that --- OH!!!! That’s my mom’s voice. My mother’s dialogue that became my inner dialogue for most of my adult life… She always told us about having clean sheets, not playing in our beds, and definitely not playing with our blankets (meant for sleeping) on the floors… 

That’s why, in the beginning, I used to fuss about my son’s blankie and my daughter’s bunny (they sleep with)… because it’s an inherited / ingrained belief pattern: they could get germy, dusty or dirty!

My mother was the one who’d jump the gun and say “Noo! No, no, no, no! Those are clean sheets, no you cannot play with them on the dirty floor.”

My carpet is not dirty. Our house is clean generally. Sure there’s some dust and “dust mites” or maybe a few hairs on the carpet that might get on the sheets, but like – whatever.

I wonder what makes her (my mom) say these things…?

And it clicks…

Oh…. Our ancestral family is from India… and mom was raised in Fiji. In these hot countries, literally, people sleep outside on their roofs, and the houses are open all day long so fresh air flows in. Along with the air in overpopulated or congested towns and cities, or small rural areas where they lived in smaller huts, dust and dirt abound. Dust and dirt WILL come in the house on a daily basis. So it makes sense that the beds are rolled up and sheets are kept off the floor. People come in and out of the house all day because that’s the lifestyle there so, yes, dirt is a guarantee.

Thus it makes sense that the parents would always warn the kids to keep their sheets neat and tidy and off the floors, not to play with them, etc. And I know our ancestral lineage was not an affluent lineage, so going and buying new sheets and blankets every other month were not a luxury they could afford. Additionally, there is more ancient influence to this: the Yogis taught us in depth about cleanliness and self-respect and energetic accumulation. It was all making sense to me how my mom developed this way of thinking and speaking…

But does that mean I must firmly abide by that today? I live in a different country with different ventilation systems. We vacuum weekly. And I don’t have dirt on my floors or guests coming/going everyday. And, I also know a lot more about the child-brain – and how impulsive the child brain is and how it is so very much driven to play! 

So, no, I don’t need to fuss to my kids about them playing with their sheets and blankets on my generally clean floors. It’s okay. They are healthy. We are healthy. We are okay. This is safe.

Play my dears. Play.

What did this whole experience that lasted in reality about 2 minutes teach me? 

1. Examine the modern and current validity of passed down / inherited habits, manners of speaking and their origins, and patterns of daily living in your life today….

Does it still apply? If not, why are you still doing it? And why do you ask your kids to? What would it take to shift that old belief that isn’t serving you anymore? And how can we stop projecting onto our kids today?

There was a story I read and heard a few times, and I don’t know where it originally comes from, but it goes like this:

“There was a favorite family recipe for a holiday ham that had been passed down through the generations. As the mother was making the ham for the umpteenth time, she was teaching her newly married daughter how to make their family’s ham.

She carefully cut both ends off the ham, set it in the pan, and added the secret combination of spices. Her daughter who was taking notes, asked, “Why do you cut off the ends?” Her mother answered, “Because that is how my mother taught me to do it.”

Later, the mother began to wonder why they cut off the ends, so she asked her mother. The grandmother answered, “Because that is how my mother taught me to do it.” The grandmother then wondered too, so she asked her own elderly mother. The great grandmother replied, “You don’t need to cut off the ends! I always did that because my old oven was too small for a big pan.””


It's possible we’ve actually never questioned the way it's always been done before – because it’s such an ingrained pattern - to question it doesn't even cross our minds without prompting... 

Sticking to old habits that no longer serve us - can cause perfectionist tendencies in kids. We get to pause and wonder - how is this action serving me and my kids? Is "my way" warranted here? When kids learn that one specific way of doing things IS HOW WE DO IT, and where if something is slightly not okay, not right, or there is an error in the method or the result, the child can become stressed out - they want it to be "right" and they want it to be right the first time! 

(I've literally seen and experienced kids wanting things to be right the first time they try something new - after 22 years of teaching dance to kids...) 

I remember my mother – who has strong perfectionist tendencies – who I inherited my perfectionism from – would spend twenty minutes trying to get the pleats in her saree just perfect… and I’d watch her stop, and start all over again many times – even if we were getting late for the event we had to get to – and all the while, it was stressing her out, and her stress was then unconsciously projected on to us… with “Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up!”

Later on, in life as an adult, I watched other women put on their sarees in 5 minutes flat – and the pleats were far from perfect! This was refreshing and important for me.

Let your kids see you mess up – and say you messed up! Let them see your imperfections. Let them know you falter.

And when you falter, practice self-compassion rather than self-judgement. Love yourself and all your imperfectness, and let your kids see you!

Having a baby and being in the NICU with her for 21 days, learning to breastfeed and baring my round tummy and breasts in front of countless nurses and doctors with my hair in a giant mess and not having showered for days, without clothes that really fit me after my c-section took away most of the shame I had carried around my body (shame I learned to carry because of how I was parented). In the hospital, I was cared for just as lovingly as anyone else, and my daughter received expert care at the hospital. It taught me I am worthy as I am, belly, breasts and all. This didn’t mean I was able to fully rewire my brain into this new self-worth, but I was able to break the patterns of shame around my body I had grown up with and become acutely aware of this tendency.

It's about breaking patterns that aren't serving us or our children anymore (and possibly never served us in the first place....)...

2. It starts with you parents! Start to notice your perfectionist tendencies.

Notice when you might fuss about certain things not being a certain way. And notice if those same things are even a bother to your child or not…. Ask yourself if it’s okay for it to be ANOTHER WAY, other than the way you’ve always done it? And get curious about these patterns. Are they something you can start to question and uncover root causes for? (P.S. Many of these patterns arise because of our past conditioning – so it’s not our fault – or anyone’s fault really…) When you can create coherence around your patterns/habits, you can do something with that information.

E.g. Do you prefer your child to get ready in the morning in a certain order? Toilet, brush, teeth, change clothes? What happens inside of you if she decides to change clothes, toilet and then brush teeth? Or eat breakfast then, toilet?

E.g. Do you prefer your child puts away their lunch bag and as soon as they come home from school and then go play? Or do their homework first before anything else? Why? Is it possible the child might benefit from some free-play (stress relief after holding it together all day at school) and then do anything else after that?

Let’s get curious.

I have helped parents discover some of these patterns causing distress in their lives...and if I can be of service to you, please reach out. 

Here’s to growing more conscious, confident and empowered as parents. 

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