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Parenting a Perfectionist

Strategies for nurturing healthy development.

Ground Picture / Shutterstock
Source: Ground Picture / Shutterstock

"Perfect is the enemy of good." This quote, often attributed to Voltaire, encapsulates a significant challenge faced by many parents today: raising children with perfectionistic tendencies. While striving for excellence can be laudable, an obsession with flawlessness can harm a child's mental health, productivity, and relationships.

Understanding Perfectionism in Children

Perfectionism in children is characterized by setting excessively high standards for themselves, coupled with a fear of making mistakes and a strong need for approval. Perfectionism can be classified into three types: self-oriented, socially prescribed, and other-oriented perfectionism. Self-oriented perfectionism involves imposing high standards on oneself, socially prescribed perfectionism stems from the belief that others expect perfection, and other-oriented perfectionism involves imposing unrealistic standards on others.

The origins of perfectionism are multifaceted, involving cultural, familial, and individual factors. Parental behaviors and attitudes play a fundamental role in the development of perfectionism. Children often internalize the high expectations and critical attitudes of their parents, leading to perfectionistic tendencies. Perfectionism can also be influenced by societal pressures and media portrayals of success and flawlessness, contributing to unrealistic standards for children.

The Impact of Perfectionism on Children

Perfectionism is associated with increased levels of stress and anxiety, as children constantly strive to meet unattainably high standards. Perfectionistic children are at a higher risk of developing anxiety disorders due to their fear of failure and harsh self-criticism. These children may experience physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and sleep disturbances due to chronic stress.

Depression is another significant risk for perfectionistic children. The constant pressure to achieve perfection can lead to feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy, contributing to the onset of depression. Perfectionistic tendencies in childhood can persist into adulthood, potentially leading to chronic mental health issues if not addressed early.

Furthermore, perfectionism can impact children's self-esteem. When their self-worth is tied to their ability to achieve perfection, any perceived failure can severely undermine their confidence. This can create a cycle of self-doubt and low self-esteem, making it difficult for children to appreciate their strengths and accomplishments. Long-term effects may include difficulties in forming healthy relationships and avoiding challenges due to fear of failure.

10 Strategies to Help Parents Support Their Perfectionist Children

  1. Model Imperfection: Demonstrate that making mistakes is a natural part of learning. Share your own mistakes and how you handled them, emphasizing that imperfection is normal and acceptable.
  2. Set Realistic Expectations: Help your child set achievable goals. Encourage them to aim for progress rather than perfection, and celebrate their efforts and improvements, not just the end results.
  3. Promote a Growth Mindset: Teach your child that abilities can be developed through effort and learning. Praise their hard work, perseverance, and willingness to learn from mistakes (Dweck, 2006).
  4. Encourage Healthy Risk-Taking: Create a safe environment for your child to take risks and try new things. Emphasize the importance of learning from experiences rather than achieving perfect outcomes.
  5. Practice Self-Compassion: Encourage your child to be kind to themselves when they encounter setbacks or make mistakes. Teach them self-compassionate phrases and ways to soothe themselves (Neff, 2011).
  6. Foster Emotional Resilience: Help your child develop coping strategies for dealing with stress and setbacks. Techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness, and talking about their feelings can be beneficial.
  7. Provide Positive Feedback: Offer specific and positive feedback on your child's efforts and achievements. Avoid focusing solely on the end result; acknowledge their hard work and dedication.
  8. Create a Supportive Environment: Ensure that your child feels supported and loved regardless of their achievements. Avoid comparisons with siblings or peers, and emphasize their unique strengths and qualities.
  9. Encourage Balanced Activities: Promote a balanced lifestyle that includes leisure activities, hobbies, and social interactions. Ensure your child has time for relaxation and enjoyment, not just academic or performance-related pursuits.
  10. Seek Professional Help if Needed: If your child's perfectionism is significantly impacting their mental health or daily functioning, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective in addressing perfectionistic tendencies (Egan et al., 2014).

Nurturing Resilience

Perfectionism can cast a long shadow over a child's mental health, productivity, and relationships. Early intervention is crucial to mitigate its negative impacts. By embracing strategies such as modeling imperfection, promoting a growth mindset, and fostering emotional resilience, parents can help their perfectionist children develop a healthier, more balanced approach to life.

In a world that often equates perfection with success, it's vital to remember that "perfect is the enemy of good." By teaching children to accept and learn from their imperfections, parents can enhance their well-being, self-esteem, and overall happiness. With understanding and support, we can guide our children through the challenges of perfectionism, helping them thrive in all areas of their lives.


Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.

Egan, S. J., Wade, T. D., Shafran, R., & Antony, M. M. (2014). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of perfectionism. Guilford Publications.

Neff, K. D. (2011). Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. HarperCollins.

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