Although in my last post I heartily extolled the importance of hard work, I'd like to clarify that I'm not advocating that you push your children to become perfectionists. Perfectionism is not a happiness habit. Maybe it isn't technically a disease (I am trying to be science-based here) but as a recovering perfectionist I can testify that perfectionism is the absolute bane of happiness. Perfectionists are prone to depression and severe anxiety, and they are more likely to commit suicide when things go really wrong.
A lot of people incorrectly assume that perfectionism propels kids to the top of their class, their teams, and eventually their fields. But it isn't the perfectionism that is doing it, it is the hard work. To the contrary, perfectionism tends to detract from success:
- Perfectionism creates a steady state of discontent fueled by a stream of negative emotions like fear, frustration, and disappointment.
- When you are a perfectionist, you can't enjoy even your successes—there is always something you could have done better.
- Because failure is not an option for perfectionists, fear of failure becomes a driving force. All that fear diverts energy from more constructive things, making perfectionists less able to learn and be creative. Perfectionists expend a lot of energy on the things they are desperately trying to avoid: failure and the criticism they imagine it will create. Ironically, this preoccupation has been shown to undermine performance in sports, in academics, and in social situations.
- Perfectionism—like all fixed-mindset thinking—keeps kids from taking risks and embracing challenge. Rising to a challenge is one of the best ways to go from being good at something to being great.
- Perfectionism leads kids to conceal their mistakes and avoid getting constructive feedback. In nearly every field—writing groups are the most obvious example here—group critique is a rapid way to get better at something.
Perfectionism is NOT about setting high expectations or being successful in your endeavors. It is about being concerned about making mistakes and about worrying about what others think.
We also know that for the most part, kids aren't born perfectionists—their environment creates them. As parents put more and more pressure on their children to achieve, more and more children are becoming perfectionists.
What do you do as a parent to foster perfectionism in your child? Do you have ideas about ways you'll discourage it in the future? Have a story about the perils of perfectionism? Please share it by leaving a comment!
© 2008 Christine Carter, Ph.D.
Step 1 for fostering success and happiness, but not perfectionism:
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