Help! My Child/Teen is Struggling with Perfectionism

Over the last twenty years, I have worked with hundreds of children and their families and repeatedly seen how perfectionism can take hold of children and adolescents. Let’s explore common signs, causes, and effective strategies for managing perfectionism, which, while often linked to high achievement, can also lead to anxiety and hold children and teens back from fulfillment in their lives.

When Signs Point to Perfectionism in Children and Teens

Signs of perfectionism in a child or teen can show up in a number of ways, which are often easy to overlook or get identified as positive traits or strengths. Be on the lookout for the following signs of perfectionism in children or teens:

Identifying and understanding these common signs can be crucial for early intervention, which can prevent more severe anxiety issues later in life. Perfectionism can hold kids back when it’s persistent and goes unchecked or ignored.

Possible Causes of Perfectionism in Children and Teens

Perfectionism can originate and develop from a variety of factors.  The following is a list of possible causes of perfectionism in children and teens::

How to Help a Child with Perfectionism

Many parents feel lost and hopeless about how to help a child with perfectionism. Supporting a child who is displaying perfectionistic behaviors involves guiding them towards healthy, more balanced thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, as well as helping them develop greater resilience extreme self-consciousness, and low self-esteem. Need effective praise & criticism to help children. Here are some approaches to test out with your child:

Coping Skills to Help Support Your Anxious Child

It’s important to learn coping skills to help your anxious child (even if she swears she hates deep breathing techniques). Introducing coping skills for anxiety doesn’t have to be a battle. In addition to  traditional deep breathing, also consider:

Perfectionism and anxiety are closely connected to child development. Perfectionism, which persists and strengthens over time, can increasingly contribute to the development of anticipation anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder. The pressure to meet unattainable achievements can lead to a great deal of stress for teens and children and teens, whereby that pressure begins to morph into generalized anxiety when left unexamined.  This can be true even when the pressure or perceived pressure to be perfect is internal and self-induced.  The link between perfectionism and anxiety in teens and children also are common in circles, and often more evident over time.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes perfectionism in children?

Many experiences can lead to perfectionism in children and teens, such as high expectations from parents, inherent personality traits, and pressures, both real and perceived, from academic and social experiences.

What is the root cause of perfectionism?

Several variables can contribute to the root cause of perfectionism in children. It can be a genetic predisposition towards anxiety and meticulousness, environmental and familial influences like parenting style, or a combination of both.

How to help a child with perfectionism?

Make sure that the messages you send say that failing is okay and can even be an important part of getting lucky. Set reasonable goals with your kids and talk to each other in an open and supportive way at home. Be aware of your own perfectionism as a parent or carer, remembering that you are their greatest model.

Is perfectionism a form of OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)?

While perfectionism is a common characteristic of OCD, not all perfectionistic behaviors indicate OCD. They are related when perfectionism significantly interferes with daily functioning.  It’s important to speak to a therapist if you feel your child’s perfectionism is developing into severe anxiety or OCD symptoms.

Are perfectionists born or made?

It can be both born and made. Some children are born with a tendency towards perfectionism, which can be exacerbated by environmental factors, family households/environments, and adults around them who are modeling how acceptable it is to make mistakes and fail.

What childhood trauma causes perfectionism?

Highly critical parenting styles, unrealistic academic expectations, early experiences of failure, or being unreasonably punished for failure can contribute to developing a perfectionist child thoughts, behaviors, and tendencies.  Parents need to understand the kinds of developmentally appropriate and typical behaviors that occur in children at various ages so that children are not scolded, corrected, or punished for developmentally proper actions and behaviors.

What is the best therapy for perfectionism?

When dealing with the anxiety and depression that come from trying to be perfect, one common approach is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It can be useful in figuring out where perfectionism is coming from mentally and then fixing it.

How do I teach my child not to be a perfectionist?

Be careful about the energy and opinions you share with your child regarding others’ failures and your own mistakes. Set a good example by showing balanced behavior. Celebrate effort and strengths instead of just results. Teach problem-solving skills step by step.

What is extreme perfectionism a symptom of?

In its most extreme form, perfectionism can be a symptom of anxiety disorders, including OCD (Obsessive-Compusive Disorder).

What kind of parenting causes perfectionism?

Overly strict, self-critical, or high-expectation parenting styles can lead to perfectionism in children. By addressing these aspects, parents can help their children lead more balanced and fulfilling lives.

If you feel your child is struggling with perfectionism, consider reaching out for professional help your child. At Amy Brown Counseling, we offer specialized counseling services designed to support children and families in managing perfectionism, anxiety, mental health disorders, and related challenges. 

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