Tips for Parenting a Perfectionist

 

 

 

 

If you’ve followed along with “My Story…” Monday as I tell the tale of life with my firstborn, A., then you may already know that I have a little perfectionist on my hands.  Now, there are some good things about this quality.  While my middle child thinks nothing of scribbling through a homework sheet haphazardly, my son will always make sure he’s done a good, thorough job.  When I scan the children’s first grade work in the halls?  A’s is always one of the neatest and most complete.  And that’s great.  But parenting a perfectionist can also be a minefield with its own challenges.

 

Here are just a few tips I’ve picked up over the years so far with my little perfectionist:

 

  1. Focus on the process.  Perfectionists are results-driven.  What matters most is that the end result is, well, perfect.  The mistakes along the way are teaching them every bit as much or more than the successes, but your perfectionistic child will not naturally see this.  Point out how impressed you were with his problem-solving strategies, not just his accurate solution.
  2. Be careful with your jokes.  I was in Algebra II/Trigonometry.  Though I majored in English Literature and French, I’ve always been more talented mathematically, truth be told, and I was good at the class.  It was, however, the highest level they offered and rather challenging.  I arrived home one day, bursting at the seams with excitement over the 99 I had earned on my last test.  My dad, teasing, said, “What’d you get wrong?”  Now, even then, I knew he was proud of my score.  But his offhand joke made me momentarily forget the NINETY-NINE percent of the material I had mastered and focus on the tiny error I had made.  Be very cautious of this sort of remark with your perfectionistic child.
  3. Do allow celebration of good end results.  While it can be frustrating (even maddening) to endure the tears and fits that can accompany less than perfect accomplishments with this kind of kiddo, that doesn’t mean you should downplay desired outcomes.  Sometimes we’re tempted to try not to even mention “perfect” results because we want to steer the attention away from that as a goal.  But, no matter what the personality of the child, good results merit a good response.  The important thing is to provide equal, balanced praise for “near-perfect” results and good effort.
  4. Don’t expect the perfectionism to manifest everywhere.  A child who cannot tolerate an A- may not have a perfectly organized room.  A child who has impeccable oral hygiene may regularly wear mis-matched socks.  There may be areas of life that you WISH would of greater priority to your perfectionistic kid, but that’s just not how it always works.  Embrace your child for who he or she is and respect his or her priorities while encouraging growth in other areas.
  5. Don’t minimize their drive and desire.  Admittedly, it can be tempting to roll my eyes and say, “Really???” when my son dissolves into tears because he couldn’t solve the cubed root of 64 on the first try at age 5.  I’m a grown-up.  With a whole different perspective and opinion on life and what truly matters.  But in his world– at that moment– arriving at the correct solution was critical.  It’s good to help your child move past the disappointment and learn to not obsess… but don’t undermine their feelings in the process.

 

Perfectionistic kids can be a true joy and they can accomplish great things.  They’ll have even more success if you do your part in helping them along the journey.  Those are just a few little tidbits!  I realized as I wrote this that I have a lot to say on this topic.

 

Are you a perfectionist?   Are you raising one?  What advice can you add?  

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6 comments to Tips for Parenting a Perfectionist

  • Kelley

    Yes, I have quite a few perfectionist tendencies and yes, my first born is a perfectionist. I appreciate this post. We started Kindergarten this year and there is homework. Yes, really, homework. It is very hard to watch him labor and become frustrated over forming perfect letters and then of course my “tendencies” towards perfection are not a bonus! I will keep the tips in mind because I think they are very good!

  • Jennie

    #4 and #5 were truly helpful. Thank you.

  • I’m a super-oldest-child-perfectionist and so is my first-born daughter. As with most personality types, I would say ENCOURAGEMENT is a necessity, as the perfectionist is never satisfied with less than perfect. I know I thrive in encouraging conditions, and will work long and hard for someone who believes in me.

    As a parent, I would say to have PATIENCE. My daughter (and I) can get so frustrated when things don’t go “right”. Slow down your over-achiever, show every step in the process, and give them space when they get frustrated. They’re harder on themselves than you (as the parent) are.

    You made some great points above! Thanks!

  • Courtney

    Ahhh God bless you. :<} I am a first born perfectionist (a.k.a. control freak) and my only child is showing signs. :<} Bless his little heart. Great tips as usual!!

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