How to Help Your Anxious Child Overcome Perfectionism

Anxiety in children can stem from a number of causes, and perfectionism can very well be one of them. When children, or even adults, are under constant self-induced pressure to do everything perfectly, it’s easy to see how anxiety can result when things don’t work out as planned.

And in our imperfect world, there are plenty of opportunities for things not to work out as planned.

Recognizing the signs of perfectionism in anxious children is the first step in helping them overcome it. You can follow that up with several useful tips designed to break children out of perfectionistic tendencies.

Signs of Perfectionism in Children

Children who tend to become highly anxious, upset or angry when they make mistakes are displaying one of the foremost signs of perfectionism. Several others include:

  • Meltdowns when things don’t go perfectly or as planned
  • Chronic procrastination
  • Difficulty finishing tasks
  • Spending excessive amounts of time on short tasks that can be completed quickly
  • Consistently redoing tasks in the hopes of improving them
  • Ongoing fear of humiliation or embarrassment
  • High frustration levels, tendency to give up easily
  • Unwillingness to try new things for fear of making mistakes

Tips to Help Anxious Children Overcome Perfectionism

If you spot signs of perfectionism in your anxious child, you can help them overcome the constant striving to be perfect with a number of helpful tips.

Explain what perfectionism is.

Using the word “perfectionism” may work for older children, but younger children may require a simpler explanation. You can refer to perfectionism as a little voice inside that:

  • Tells us we’re failures if we don’t do things perfectly.
  • Makes it hard to learn new things.
  • Makes it scary to make mistakes.
  • Makes it difficult to finish things, or even start things.
  • Takes all the fun out of activities, since we’re so busy trying to perform everything perfectly.

Replace critical thoughts with positive statements.

Getting the little perfectionist voice to be quiet is easier when you replace the critical self-talk with positive statements. Share positive statements your child can use each time a critical thought arises. Your child can even write them down on note cards or sticky notes to keep positive statements at the ready. A few examples include:

  • Nobody’s perfect.
  • Doing my best is all I can do.
  • I am learning and getting better with everything I do.

Encourage perspective.

One of the reasons perfectionists become anxious is because they fear the absolute worst will happen if things are not done perfectly. Reinforce that this is not true. Ask your child to look back on times in their lives when things didn’t go perfectly and nothing terrible happened.

One final tip for helping anxious children overcome perfectionism is to give them praise for their honest and heartfelt efforts, no matter what the outcome. Focus your positive remarks on their hard work, and the courage and confidence they showed during the process. Progress, not perfection, should be the goal, and your anxious child is making progress with every effort and every try.