Dealing with the Perfectionist Child


"Growing up made Life so uneasy for me especially when mother died. Not quite long after her death, my dad took another wife, making hell on earth for me. Of every hard thing I had to learn growing, one was to be a "perfectionist" in all things- house chores, academics and others. At a point, I became only happy whenever I get an A in my grades. A "B" causes depression. My step mother tampered with a part of my life that never made me feel good except I've been strained past the limit. I had impossible standards and never felt "good enough".

When I heard Akuo, a good friend of mine speak all these, I considered myself very lucky. I had a strong rethink of her situation and how she had coped for the bulk of her life. I wondered how well I could manage "being a perfectionist child"- that is if I could.
Perfectionism is a school in parenting that if intensified, it dominates and diminishes the quality of life. It is worse if it happens from childhood as children do not automatically know how to behave except they are guided by their parents.


Identifying a "perfectionist child" however comes in diverse ways. Akuo's story made me find them out.
1. They may over-function in their pursuit of perfect results, becoming mislabelled as a young workaholic.
2. They may also underfunction to avoid the pain of anticipated failure, getting mislabelled as lazy.
3. They may avoid social contact to keep others from discovering their imperfections.
4. When they "ace" an assignment, they cannot enjoy their success for worrying about failing the next one.
5. Fearing failure, they hesitate to try new things.
6. They over focus on their mistakes.
7. They procrastinate, underachieve and leave work unfinished or quit before completion to avoid failing.
8. To prevent criticism from others, they'll do almost anything including lie, rationalise, excuse themselves and blame others.
9. They are often anxious and worried, anticipating the worst.
10. They may be subject to physical complaints like frequent headaches, stomach upsets, eating problems.
Like Akuo, many young ones face this. Akuo's story is one I studied right from our days at the secondary school. At the moment, she is in the university and finds this "perfection" issue a tough one to deal with. She confides in me that it affects her thoroughly.

Perfectionism violates the unique abilities and personality of a child, encouraging a child to be something that was not intended to be in order to gain approval from people. It is one psychological effect of a step mother on her child. Overcoming perfectionism in a child goes through these steps:

1. Convince the child that s/he is valuable because of who s/he is and not what they accomplish.

2. Help them understand the possibility to complete every assignment without errors. Train them to think about mistakes as opportunities to experiment, clarify values, learn and improve their skills, thoughts and decision-making.

3. Share your mistakes and poor decisions with them. Discuss your flaws and how you've grown through them.

4. Explain that perfectionists get "tunnel vision," locking themselves into limitation and therefore solve only few problems. Explain that there is more than one way to solve a problem, organise a project and get other things done. Discuss these other ways to expand their perceptions, introduce great flexibility into their life and thoughts.

5. Celebrate the effort, not just the result. Praise things unrelated to achievement like generosity, honesty and kindness.

6. Reduce pressure. They may not need all the subjects they offer- (I remember myself as an art student taking further mathematics) or to participate in every extracurricular activity.
Perfectionism is too much of a good thing, it starts early and in children, they usually do not grow out of it. From today, please, help young ones reduce it systematically and improve the quality of life.

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