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.
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I enjoyed the watching the video.
“Labeling” your children…the good one, the wild one, the talented one, the smart one, the lazy one, etc. is indeed a parenting behavior generally recognized as disrupting the healthy physical, emotional, and intellectual development of children.
What a world we would be living in if community-based parenting education was a reality!
Here’s something that’s illustrative.
An extraterrestrial researcher visited Earth and then returned to her home planet and made this report: Humans are quite advanced technologically, but lag in terms of civility. Significant numbers of humans engage in self-destructive behavior, and an unusually high percentage of the population has been judged too dangerous to live freely. This lag may have something to do with parenting. Hard as it may be to believe, humans do not teach best parenting behaviors and practices to their young! Humans are the first, higher-order sentient beings we’ve studied who don’t teach parenting skills to youth. Consequently, the offspring who are raised by less than competent or hurtful parents often become burdens on their society and repeat the poor parenting behaviors they were exposed to. Every other similar civilization we’ve studied throughout the galaxy has been teaching best parenting behaviors and practices to its young for centuries! Indeed, we have assumed the teaching of best parenting behaviors to youth to be a hallmark of advanced civilizations! Because this phenomenon is unprecedented in our research, it is recommended Earth culture be examined for anomalies that may account for this abnormality.
David | 10:09 am, August 30, 2008 | Link
I was a perfectionist growing up in Bethesda, MD and indeed, when things didn’t work out my way, I was devastated. My world came tumbling down. My behavior was reinforced by my parents’ continual approval of all my successes.
Ruth Grossinger | 9:17 am, August 31, 2008 | Link
Interesting perspective. As a perfectionist, I would have to agree with it entirely. I have battled depression and anxiety my whole life. I was a great student, but my career has been lackluster because I am constantly afraid to try anything new. I want to work on things that I’m already good at — not a good strategy for growth. And most disturbing (to me), I really really struggle to learn now. I almost think I have a learning disability sometimes. It scares me for the future.
What I want to know is: how does one “recover” from being a perfectionist??
Holly | 1:50 pm, August 31, 2008 | Link
This was a great article and really helped me understand my own perfectionism. I know I was praised for my successes and therefore afraid to try anything new or different for fear of failure. As with the previous post, I struggle daily with this issue in anything I do. My career, marriage, motherhood and am taking steps to be aware of it and change. It’s hard work but worthwhile. These articles have been a good steping stone for reflection. Thanks!
Jen | 7:03 am, September 16, 2008 | Link
I am a perfectionist and I fear I am raising a perfectionist. My daughter, age 5, gets so frustrated when learning a new task. When he doesn’t do it right she gets angry and yells or tosses whatever she is doing. She does always come back though and continues to try. I wonder how this is happening as I try to encourage her effort and assure her that no one learns complicated tasks (like tying shoes) on the first try. Thank you for your article because now I am thinking perhaps I am the one that does not want her to fail and she must sense that.
Amy | 8:39 pm, December 27, 2008 | Link
Aren’t we lucky to have these amazing resources on parenting available to us. We learn so much about ourselves from rearing our children. Sometimes our children are little barometers of ourselves…
Rella | 9:01 pm, January 9, 2009 | Link