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Updated: Aug 29, 2023

How to help a child with perfectionist tendencies… A Three Part Series

Part 1: Being open and vulnerable with our child…

Does your child get down on herself? Is she hard on herself? Perfectionist child? Here are some things you can do…

Here are some signs to look for that indicate perfectionist tendencies in a child…

· Gives up easily after only 1 or 2 attempts of something,

· Unable to overcome mistakes,

· Has difficulty managing change,

· Self-critical, self-conscious, or easily embarrassed,

· Sensitive to criticism even if it’s constructive,

· Anxiety about making mistakes,

· Procrastinates or avoids challenging tasks,

· Tendency to stay in comfort zone,

· Emotionally and socially inhibited,

· Critical of others,

· Difficulty decision making,

These are just a few…

So what can you do?

1: Be vulnerable and open; share your past mistakes or poor choices with your child (based on what is age appropriate of course).

It can be hard for parents to be vulnerable with their kids; many parents struggle with showing their mistakes, flaws or poor choices from the past. We think that we are the “teachers,” the guides, and the ones who need to have it all together or know right from wrong, so admitting our mistakes to our kids can be pretty courageous. And yet, almost imperative.

Sharing these "imperfect" parts of yourself allows you to reach your child on 'their' level - you become approachable/reachable - and that is life changing! If you choose to not share your imperfections, mistakes or poor choices, then your child has only your achievements to ‘measure’ up against. Not because you are asking them to ‘measure up’ and not because she is trying to ‘measure up.’ But because her brain looks up to you.... Yours is the intimate relationship that shapes her childhood…

When you step out of your comfort zone and share your mistakes with your child, be sure to share the LESSON you learned from it, and how, going through the mistake actually helped you. If kids can see the positives around a mistake, a mistake is less threatening. This is crucial for kids who suffer with anxiety.

Sharing Points to with your child about:

What did you gain from the mistake?

How did you grow from the mistake?

How has the lesson helped you in other areas of your life?

When I was 7 years old, I made a very BIG poor choice that was disrespectful that affected MANY people including myself. And I love telling this story in my coaching workshops with kids because their ears perk up so fast… they’re so excited to hear about how “The Confidence Coach” could actually screw up (a sign that we need to normalize mistakes and screwing up…)

At the time, my parents had some odd changes in their work schedules meaning they had to drop me off to school SUPER early – we’re talking before 7 am when nobody else was there except the janitor. They didn’t have much of a choice as there was no other available childcare for me at the time and my brother wasn’t so reliable – Lol.

I was advised to sit on the floor in the hallway on the cold somewhat sandy tile floors and wait quietly. I wasn’t offered any toys or activities to do. I believe I may have taken 1 or 2 books with me to read while in the hallway. If the conditions were for a few days, I’m sure I would’ve handled it. But, it was for a month and it was scary being alone in the cold dark hallway. I remember trying to communicate with my parents about what I was feeling, but in our house, we just did what we had to do. Feelings needed to be put aside. I was feeling VERY 'ICKY’ and it just wasn’t met with empathy or consideration (a thing for parents and the school to have thought about too back then… but it wasn’t the case).

One day, I got angry ---- I acted out. It was impulsive, which is expected for kids, but I also remember it being oddly thrilling. I walked into the classroom of a teacher I did not particularly like; I threw stuff around, broke chalk pieces, threw brand new boxes of pens into the garbage, I messed up her papers on her desk, I knocked over a plant, and the worst…Remember rubber cement that was used in schools in the 80’s? I took the rubber cement and painted the glue all over the ivory keys of the teacher’s piano!!!

Aaaghh. Talk about vandalism.

Oh did I get in trouble. I was scared for my life.

I was grounded, most of my privileges were taken away, and lost the trust of everyone in school. My friends teased me also. The secretary Ms. Cormier, who had loved me prior to this, was suddenly very cold towards me now.

This story is something I share with my coaching kids when it comes down to topics like

· What to do when it comes to someone else’s property, belongings, or ‘stuff.’

· What does respect and disrespectful look like.

· The negative impacts of this action on me and others - how does it play out in your life when you make a poor choice…

Yes, it’s true that from a parenting and caregiver perspective, I know now what was happening in my mind-body system and there were reasons my impulsive brain did it (looking underneath the behavior - behind every negative behavior are unmet needs...) AND, there is still a lesson in this to share with my kids and my coaching kids.

I learned a lot from this experience:

1) How disrespectful behavior can cause people hardship or pain – including myself!

2) How to respect property of others, and how I’d feel if someone did it to me (healthy guilt/healthy shame; see Irene Lyon’s video on healthy v.s. toxic shame)

3) How I lost the trust of others.

4) What it means to cross a boundary or break rules intended for well-being.

5) How to make better choices that don’t cause harm.

And many more lessons!

The point is, when I share this with my child, my child can go “Wow Mom. You did that huh? It was a pretty big mistake.” And suddenly I’m not up there, this towering parent who never did anything wrong, who my child has to work to not disappoint.


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