Under Pressure: How to Help Kids Fight Perfectionism

Under Pressure: How to Help Kids Fight Perfectionism post thumbnail image

One of the greatest and most dangerous stressors facing kids and teens today: pressure

Pressure to succeed; pressure to be brilliant, to be perfect and constantly on; pressure to keep pushing, and to immediately and unreflectively get back up- no matter how painful the fall. Does this sound familiar? 

We live in a culture of unrelenting expectation and societal pressure to “keep going” in the name of success, even if it destroys us. The message is: you are your accomplishments and your accomplishments alone. 

As a society, we are generally all too willing to forsake the emotional health and wellbeing of ourselves (and our kids).  In our push for our kids to be “more,” we risk creating the self-belief that they are somehow “less than” or “never enough.” 

This takes a toll, physically and mentally. In fact, an upsurge in scientific evidence demonstrates that kids under high levels of prolonged stress sustain a profound physical toll. Unidentified and unmanaged, the effects of this can cascade into adult life. So, burnout is better thought of not just as a state of mind, but as a condition that leaves its mark on the brain and the body. 

As parents, we want nothing more than to see our kids succeed and flourish in the classroom, on the field, and in life. Yet, the most loving and well-intentioned parents can create a pressure cooker for their children. 

The question becomes one of how we, as parents and caretakers, can identify when our child is reaching their limit. Moreover, how can we help our children identify this in themselves, prioritize their mental health, and communicate with us when they need to focus on their health- as opposed to some external goal? 

Here are a few ways to help your child identify and communicate their mental health and wellbeing boundaries:

Adopt a Growth Mindset. Praising your child for being “the smartest kid in class” or for “making every free throw” could cause them to adopt the belief that mistakes are bad and must be avoided at all costs. Fear of failure and anxiety over the potential for mistakes prevents kids from succeeding and trying new things. To combat this, focus on praising your child’s efforts rather than the outcome. For example, rather than praising your child for getting a 100 on their math exam, praise them for their dedication to learning and studying.  

Develop Healthy Self-Esteem. Some kids may learn that the way to gain your adoration and attention is through achievement. Make it clear that achievement is far from the only important thing in life, and that it is not the only metric of success you value. Start by praising them for their thoughtfulness, for communicating how they feel,  for treating others with kindness or for being a good friend.  Moreover, engage in activities with your child that help them to feel good about who they are and not just what they accomplish.

Discuss & Validate Feelings. High-achieving and perfectionistic kids can mask their pain and turmoil. They feel compelled to appear poised on the outside, and consequently, suffer in silence when problems arise. Allow your child to experience distress and failure and talk about it with them with love and support. Opening this discussion starts with you. Model talking about your difficult feelings and emotions, and validate their emotional expression. If your child sets a boundary, talk it through with them.


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