When to seek help for your child's perfectionism?
A study into perfectionism and children found a dominant feature of children who are perfectionistic is the distorted and rigid ways in which they tend to think.
The study also revealed perfectionistic children commonly think they must adhere to meeting impossibly high standards. They may overgeneralise when they fail, telling themselves they will ‘never do well.’ They also tend to believe that they should be doing things perfectly so that bad things do not occur and that if they make mistakes the consequences can be dreadful.
So when should parents seek professional help? Dr Einstein says if the child seems to be experiencing depression as a result of their perfectionism, that’s when the parents need to take action.
“If the parent sees that their child is unable to do things because they are stuck with their perfectionism, that’s when it becomes a major problem. Sometimes that actually comes out in the form of procrastination – some perfectionists are so concerned about getting it right they can’t get started,” Dr Einstein says.
“It might not be necessary to take a child who is excessively procrastinating to a psychologist or to label the behaviour, unless you can see that they’re either feeling anxiety, or they’re depressed and it’s messing with their ability to function. But if you feel your child is depressed due to perfectionism, that’s a time to seek help.”
How parents can help their child
Dr Collie says another way to help your ‘perfectionist child’ is by telling them they’re doing a great job, even if whatever they were attempting wasn’t successful.
“It’s a very complex issue, as it involves a bit of nature versus nurture. What we can do to help kids is by getting them to understand mistakes aren’t a sign of failure. They’re related to learning and improving, and we can use this as a way to get better at things,” Dr Collie says.
“We can also focus on praising young children for their efforts rather than their accomplishments, as this helps them understand that they can control their effort. You can’t always control the outcome, but you can control how hard you work on something.
“We know from the research that healthy perfectionism can be linked to positive outcomes but unhealthy perfectionism, when it’s held down by a fear of failure, can lead to less positive outcomes and that’s when it becomes a problem.”
Dr Collie says if parents are concerned that their child’s perfectionism is interfering with their daily life then that’s a good time to seek professional help.
“If your child is under five, you could start with your local GP but, if the child is in school, it’s a good idea to see the school counsellor at first and take it from there.
“If you feel like your child’s ability to function at home or at day-care, preschool or school, is being affected it might be time to reach out for help and guidance.”