In Part 1 of this 3-part series, I described some of the behaviours a child might exhibit if they have perfectionist tendencies. To refresh your memory, check out the post here: https://www.ashleyanjlienkumar.net/post/manage-your-blog-from-your-live-site
Not only will this help a child with perfectionism, but can prevent it from developing in the first place.
PART 2: CELEBRATE MISTAKES
Sounds counter intuitive doesn’t it? Aren’t we supposed to prevent our kids from making mistakes? As kids we were always cautioned against making mistakes, right? So why do I want to celebrate my kids mistakes?
I hear kids all the time, especially in dance class or sports, “I hope I don’t make a mistake” or “I hope I don’t get it wrong.” They hope they don’t make a mistake because they view the mistake as something that diminishes who they are. That somehow, they aren’t good enough. Many kids, by age 5 or 6 years old, are already determining their self-worth by their mistakes.
In my family, similar to many conservative traditional families, making mistakes was not okay. You did not make mistakes. Mistakes meant punishments.
What did this lead to? Hiding things, telling lies about stuff, and a lack of open dialogue with parents for fear of being punished or condemned.
If mistakes had been treated as a stepping stone to something greater, then we would not have feared mistakes as much as we did. When kids start to fear mistakes, they may not want to do anything new or challenging. What are the impacts of this?
1. Internal feelings of sadness, loneliness and in the long-run, low self-esteem.
2. Feelings of inadequacy.
3. Don’t want to take healthy risks, hence stay in their comfort zone.
4. Unable to handle constructive criticism.
5. Unable to achieve goals and dreams, as these lie outside the comfort zone.
6. Unable to become a self-leader.
7. Could become apathetic to mistakes with an attitude of “I don’t care, doesn’t matter anyways.”
8. Become overly critical or even engage in self-harm because of the mistakes.
I know this well. I did this. I remember being as young as 6 years old and pointing a knife into my belly because I felt like I didn’t do anything right – my self-worth was so low. Sounds crazy right? Age six? Yeah, it’s a bit unbelievable. But, I did it. Sure I had seen stuff on TV and movies which didn’t help – great reason to limit screen time and monitor kids’ shows… But the reality is that kids beliefs about themselves and the world around them are developed by age 7. So obviously stuff was going on for me as I reached this age that had caused me to develop a habit of negative self-talk: “Hey, you’re not good enough!”
Most research related to suicide overlooks young kids. According to the American Psychological Association, “Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for children ages 5 to 14 in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”[i] This means other developed countries aren’t far behind in terms of numbers.
This didn’t just happen though. I was receiving so much messaging from family, media and school that mistakes were bad. I started to identify with my mistakes: “I am bad because I make mistakes.”
So what do we do? Lets’ dive in further:
If we say to our kids “don’t make mistakes” they will fear mistakes. Neural connections in our brain are created by our experiences, what we learn, feelings, thoughts etc. Two significant things to note about neural pathways in the brain:
1. They form our habits; habits are basically really strong neural pathways.
2. If we’ve never done something before, we don’t have any neural pathways for it. So, this creates feelings of ‘this is weird” or discomfort, and this can generate self-doubt, fear, worry, nervousness or anxiety.
If we repeatedly indicate to our kids that making mistakes is not good, this creates a neural pathway or neural network in their brain that, in short, looks like this:
MISTAKES = BAD = FEAR = COULD MESS UP = NOT WORTH IT = DON’T DO IT (…and so on…)
What can you differently to empower your child?
How can you celebrate mistakes when it does not feel natural? We don’t just shout “yippee” or “hooray” when we make a mistake or when our child makes a mistake, do we? If you’ve never heard of ‘celebrating your mistakes’ and have never done it before, it means you do not have a neural pathway in your brain for it. But it can be learned.
It doesn’t have to be an enthusiastic jump-up-and-down-moment; it can be a simple positive acknowledgement. Many times when we discover our child has made a mistake, our initial reaction is surprise or disapproval followed by frustration or anger. Our emotional response of course will be influenced by the severity and the context of the situation surrounding the mistake.
When your child makes a mistake (wherein no human or animal was severely harmed, property damage was minimal - such as a broken vase - and it was not intentional), instead of instantly going into the ‘wrongs’ of what happened, blaming or hurling negativity, here’s my suggested process you could follow:
1. Stop. Breathe. Notice your feelings. Can you acknowledge your thoughts and feelings as they rise up (we can all feel the ‘tide rising’ inside of us right)?
It's helpful for your child to HEAR your feelings so she can understand her impact on others; for example, let's say your child was jumping on the sofa in the living room, and you've asked her not to as you continue to cook dinner in the kitchen. She miscalculates her catapult jump off the sofa and accidentally knocks the vase off the end-table and it crashes to the floor.
A possible response could be "Oh my gosh. The vase just broke huh? Are you okay?" Stop before launching into anything negative as the initial shock wears off. If it's safe to leave the mess there for a moment while you process this learning opportunity, that would be okay too. Or wait to chat after your child has helped you clean up (depending on the child's age):
"I felt scared when I heard the crash. I also feel frustrated and angry that you chose not to listen when I asked you to not jump on the couch."
2. Then shift your thoughts and subsequent words. It might sound something like this:
“The vase broke by mistake right? (Wait for a response - normally a child will apologize if she has remorse for it; if not, prompting an apology is okay too - avoid demanding one). Ok. Well this is an opportunity to learn. Let’s see what we can do about the vase."
You can add on to this by saying “Can we come up with a solution together and think about what to do now?” When the child does propose a solution that's valid and helpful, try a celebratory tone of voice and affirm the child’s proposed solution: “That’s a terrific idea!”
Note: It’s crucial that parents don’t do the work for the child to fix the mistake. A child learns self-responsibility when she takes the necessary steps to correct mistakes when possible.
3. Ask the child what they would do differently next time, and guide them with questions until they can find an answer to this question.
4. Support their answer, and then, if you can reach inside, be in the present moment long enough to see your child as someone who is learning ‘the ropes’ of life, and give them a hug and say “I feel proud of you” and/or “I love you,” it will go a long way to helping them feel supported when they make a mistake. This is the celebration part!! Pride does not just come when our kids do ‘good’ things like win a trophy or certificate. It comes when they process mistakes and failures as healthy experiences for personal growth. You can even go so far as to say “Congratulations on managing your mistake today.”
Note: When you’re child apologizes which is part of the child’s process for managing mistakes, I’m not a proponent of saying “It’s okay” if it’s not really okay. This is part of a bigger practice of emotional authenticity. Instead I say “Thank you for apologizing. I appreciate you.”
5. Ask your child how he/she feels after this process. Simply asking “How do you feel…” can encourage the expression of things that might have come up for them as they processed their mistake. You’d be surprised with what might come up…
For many kids a mistake can feel embarrassing, awkward, and sometimes they may not even know how to process their emotions. But when we, the calm parent are able to go through this 5 step process, and end on a positive note so a child feels supported rather than ‘small’, the child can feel ‘safe’ enough to express their true emotions, whether it be remorse, sadness or even frustration.
By the way parents, what I’m asking here is BIG. I get it. I’m a parent, and the amount responsibility on our plate is massive. So when a mistake was preventable, it can just throw us off our game. We lose our *hit sometimes. I’ve gone through trials like you, the shouting, the reprimand, etc. It only caused me and my child to feel worse afterwards and not much learning took place.
It took a lot of initial practice and re-wiring my neural pathways to start celebrating mistakes. But these steps are a big factor in preventing perfectionism in a child, or helping a child to release perfectionist tendencies. There’s work involved for the parent. But, here’s how I look at it:
Would I rather my child go into self-beat-up mode OR help her see the mistake as an opportunity to learn and do better next time?
Would I rather my child be overly hard on herself OR help her see the growth in the mistake?
Would I rather my child become a perfectionist who is afraid to take risks out of fear of ‘doing it wrong’ OR become someone who goes for it in life and has the skills to manage mistakes effectively to develop high self-esteem?
And my child is worth it.
Now this is the method I have for parents. For kids, I have a 5 step process to learn how to handle mistakes to prevent emotional shut-down or self-beat-up. In fact, my upcoming ‘Inner Warrior Training’ Group Coaching Program will allow kids to learn the steps to handle Fear, Mistakes, Failure and Change. I give them concrete tools and techniques to handle anything life throws at them! Plus we read stories, have discussions, play games and do crafts.
If you’d like for your child to learn more about this, feel free to reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s what my past clients have said:
“Ashley helped unlock the power and strength that I knew my child had all along, but was too riddled with anxiety and doubt to express it.” – Monica Baker, mother of 10 year old participant
“Ashley does an incredible job with the kids. Her programs provide a ton of value and we noticed an immediate shift in our 9 year old daughter. The techniques and tools are easy to use and we use them all time! Thank you Ashley for your magical presence and ability to guide the children to new heights.” – DeeAnne Reindeau, mother of 9 year old participant