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Is your child a perfectionist? No, it is not a disorder, it is a personality trait. There might be good, as well as bad in it to be a perfectionist. However, most researches show that it could be harmful too, therefor it has to be addressed. Does your child have a tendency to become highly anxious, angry or upset about making mistakes and have difficulty completing tasks, or gets frustrated and is overly cautious and gives up too soon? Or fear mistakes, failure, embarrassment and humiliation? Perfectionists are very critical of themselves, self-conscious, have low self-confidence and have high expectations of their performance. They are highly sensitive to criticism, but also have a tendency to be critical of others. Perfectionism has been linked to performance anxiety, eating disorders, headaches, obsessive-compulsive disorder, stress and depression. Excessive praise or demands from parents or teachers for exemplary achievement, drives a fear for failure and the children tie their self-worth to their success. Perfectionists actually tend to achieve less and stress more as they are unable to accept anything less than perfection. “Almost perfect” is seen as failure. They are highly critical and very judgemental. They want All-or-nothing. They are pushed by fear for their unrealistic high standard and focus only on the results.
We as teachers and parents must encourage high standards, not perfection. This does not mean low standards. There is a difference between excellence and perfectionism. Motivate them to strive for excellence while enjoying what they are doing and gain confidence without having them always finding mistakes and seeing the negative in what they are doing or achieving and demoralising themselves. Set goals and standards that are reachable and encourage them, but do not push your child to achieve perfection that can hurt both confidence and performance. Let go of negative talk, rather make them believe they can improve, but it requires time, effort and mistakes. Teach them positive statements and see the grey areas in between, not only the rigid black-and-white thinking. Avoid the words “perfect”, ”brilliant” or “genius”. Avoid comparing children.
Teach them to have fun, relax and recharge without focussing on achievement. Next time, when you pick up your child, rather ask, “Did you have fun today?” instead of, “How did you do today?” It is more important than winning or scoring goals or achieving perfection. Focus on learning while enjoying it. Show that you care more about your child enjoying what he or she was doing and learning new skills. Be mindful of your expectations, criticism and how you express this. Show affection, love, interest and pride, not only when your child accomplishes something, because it is not conditional on performance. It is okay not to be perfect. Nobody is perfect. A mistake does not equal failure. There is value in mistakes. Set reasonable standards. Teach them that “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” (Robert Kennedy). Praise effort, encourage confidence, and develop a healthy self-esteem. Teach them how to prioritise and balance (as they tend to have difficulty making decisions) and to know the goal is to complete the tasks, not to make it perfect.
Written by Cathmaré Koegelenberg
Excellence versus Perfection
Fear of failure