When children cannot cope with failure, when striving to be their best hinders their learning, how can parents support them to learn the benefits of trial and error?
Perfectionism typically has a bad reputation but as Associate Professor Naomi Sweller points out, it isn’t always a negative trait.
“Broadly, perfectionism is a drive to achieve standards beyond what might be considered reasonable and often comes with being self-critical,” she explains.
“It’s important to remember that not all perfectionism is bad.
“Adaptive (helpful) perfectionism can be positively related to happiness and life satisfaction, while maladaptive (unhelpful) perfectionism is a risk factor for mental health issues, for example feelings of not being worthy enough in children, depression in high school students into adulthood and low relationship satisfaction in young adults.”
Associate Professor Sweller says that adaptive perfectionism can have a positive effect on a child’s academic learning as it can help a child try hard at tasks.
Adverse effects of perfectionism
Meanwhile, maladaptive perfectionism can have negative effects as it may cause a child to have excessive concerns when it comes to learning new tasks.
“Perfectionism is often accompanied by anxiety, including doubting one’s actions, having high standards for oneself, high parental expectations and tending to perceive criticism from one’s parents,” she adds.
The research on how children become perfectionist is mixed.
“A child may already have pre-existing perfectionistic traits, but some parenting styles can influence the development and maintenance of perfectionism,” says Associate Professor Sweller.
The impact of parenting on perfectionism
A 2014 US study found that an authoritarian parenting style, high demands with low responsiveness, was associated with more maladaptive aspects of perfectionism.
While authoritative parenting, high demands and high responsiveness, buffered children from the maladaptive aspects.
“Parents being critical or having excessively high expectations may result in a child feeling they need to meet academic, emotional or social goals that are unrealistic,” explains Associate Professor Sweller.
“Perfectionism may develop with parental responses and availability that do not match children’s attachment needs.
“Parents may project their own worries or concerns onto their children and the child may in response become hypersensitive to making mistakes.
“Parents may be controlling, having very high expectations, as well as, criticism of their children, meaning children may strive for perfection to avoid criticism.”