By: Lia Parisyan, Writer.
Perfectionism is a quality that’s often lauded as a virtue. Yet perfectionism that’s maladaptive can have unhealthy consequences for your child or teen in both the short-term and long-run.
Parents want the best for the kids, but how high are you setting your expectations? Are your standards realistic? Your child is human after all and you can’t expect him or her to meet adult-quality performance in all areas of life. Are you one of those parents who always expects your child to get an A or a 100 on an exam? Do you always expect his or her sports team to win? Are you disappointed when he or she breaks a minor rule such as forgetting to take his or her shoes off, not making the bed, or eating a snack in his or her room once in a blue moon? Are you constantly focusing on what’s wrong? Never taking stock of what he or she is doing right?
Your perfectionist tendencies may be setting your child up to be afraid of failure. Failure is a necessary part of life; it is a learning opportunity that helps your child prepare for the challenges and success of adult life. The road to success isn’t a straight line, it’s full of detours and deviations, but perfectionists have a hard time seeing and accepting reality and often go through great lengths to avoid both pain and disappoint. Perfectionists are also so focused on the end goal that they miss the here and now. They also tend to suffer from low self-esteem because they direct fault finding inward.
Instead of criticizing your child for making a mistake and saying things like: “I can’t believe you only got a 90% on your Math test; I am very disappointed,” you may want to think about how your words are affecting your child’s self-esteem. Perhaps, the Math test was very difficult and your child studied very hard to try to meet your unrealistic expectations of always getting a perfect score. Instead of criticizing his or her performance say:
“I am proud that you got a 90% on your test. That shows great effort. What questions did you answer incorrectly? Why do you think you had trouble with question 9 and 11? Were you nervous or were you not sure how to answer that type of question?” Approaching your child this way, shows that you care and are interested in helping him or her do better on the next exam. You aren’t making him or her fear failure, you’re giving your child optimal thinking skills to help assess his or her performance- not only on one exam, but on the exams that follow. This type of questioning also gives your child skills that he or she will use throughout his lifetime both at work and home. Perhaps, through discussing his or her performance this way, you discover that your child is nervous during exams or that he/she didn’t quite understand long form division. This type of involvement doesn’t make your child fearful of failure rather it empowers him or her to self-assess and come up with new strategies to learn, improve, and grow.
As a parent you also have to continuously ask yourself: “What’s most important to me? What’s most important to my child?” You shouldn’t be afraid to have discussions with your child or teen. Maybe your child simply isn’t a Math person, but excels at Science or the Arts. Should you be overly critical if your child doesn’t meet your expectations? Was your academic career completely flawless? Did you have areas in which you excelled? Or, perhaps, your parents pressured you to be perfect? How did that experience affect you? Is it something worth repeating?
Naturally, no one likes to fail. Going off course isn’t always a negative; it can present choices and lessons that may have otherwise not been recognized. Rather than making your child continuously anxious and nervous, encourage him or her to try his/her hardest; tell your kids it’s okay to fail as long as they learn from their mistakes. It will inspire their confidence and give them the motivation they need to take on new and exciting challenges.