As seen in APeeling in Summer 2020
Does your child get down on herself? Is she hard on herself? Is she a ‘perfectionist’ child?
Some parents have reached out to me to ask what they can do to help their child who they believe has perfectionist tendencies. As someone who grew up with a mother with perfectionist tendencies, I picked up those qualities too in many ways. It isn’t easy going into the adult world expecting and wanting things to be perfect from the start, and then realizing there will be many roadblocks, ‘plan B’s’ – which a perfectionist mostly hates, and even failures. -- What? Failure? Aarrgh (running in the opposite direction…Right?)
I’ve been working on those tendencies since I was 19 years old and have worked to diminish the effects of these habits on my life. There are adults in their 60’s now trying to unravel their perfectionist habits so they can learn to enjoy life more. This is isn’t easy as we get older, so the sooner we start with young kids, the better off they will be in the long run.
There isn’t one single answer that will ‘fit’ each child because each child is unique. But here are some ways to help your child that will benefit her regardless, and will help to increase the connection in your relationship.
First, what are some signs of a perfectionist 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?
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 open up and be vulnerable with their kids; many parents struggle with showing their mistakes, flaws or poor choices from the past. But 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 doesn’t have anything else to compare to right now. At least not on that very intimate relationship level than can only be experienced in the parent-child dynamic.
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 experiencing the mistake actually helped you. If kids can see the positives around a mistake, a mistake is less threatening.
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?
Here is a story I would tell my child 5-10 year old child about a poor choice from my past:
When I was 7 years old, I made a very poor choice that was disrespectful and affecte d many people negatively.
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 like before 7am when nobody else was there yet except the janitor. 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 but 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 family similar to many other families just trying to make it in the world, we just did what we had to do.
Feelings needed to be put aside.
I was feeling upset, not in control of the situation, and slightly neglected.And one day, 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, 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 wand and painted 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 boy did I lose 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 toward me.
When might I share this story? When the opportunity arises to teach my child:
What to do when it comes to someone else’s property, belongings, or ‘stuff.’
What is a disrespectful choice.
The negative impacts of a poor choice on me - how does it play out in your life when you make a poor choice…
Sure there were things my parents could have done differently, but it’s likely they didn’t have much of an option – things were different in the 80’s (less flex time at work, tougher workplace policies etc.) In the end, it was a choice I made. Through this mistake I learned:
1) How disrespectful behaviour can cause hardship or pain for people– including myself.
2) My life was negatively impacted – people lost trust in me, I lost my privileges
3) When you break the rules or cross boundaries, the consequences can be severe.
4) How to make better choices that don’t cause harm. And many more lessons!
The point is, when I can share this with my child, my child can say, “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 can never disappoint.
Ashley Anjlien Kumar is a mother of 2, author, speaker and certified Wisdom Coach™ for Kids. She goes by ‘The Confidence Coach’ and coaches kids all across the country. Have grown up experiencing low self-worth, poor self-image, and self-harm from as young as age 6, Ashley now dedicates her time to empowering kids to develop ‘Sensational Self-Confidence & Soaring Self-Esteem’ in order to live a self-empowered, self-connected and self-motivated amazing life! She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org