Recently I overheard a young girl crying to her mother on the sidelines of a soccer field that she couldn’t go back in because she just wasn’t good enough to play. I’m talking about a five year old girl in a Daryl Gee soccer class, who had decided that she wasn’t fit to be on the field with her Kindergarten classmates. Her exasperated mother sighed heavily, muttering under her breath something about yet another activity that her daughter would refuse to participate in. Sound familiar?
We’ve all had the experience of signing up our kids for an activity that they later decide they don’t want to do. In this case, this little girl was so afraid of making a mistake that she didn’t even want to try.
If you have a perfectionist child, you’ve seen firsthand how her high expectations can hurt her confidence and performance. This type of kid wants to succeed so badly that she becomes anxious when her performance is not perfect. She worries about what others will think and fears disappointing her teammates or parents. There is no middle ground, either good or bad. Her unrealistic expectations take all the joy out of the activity itself and make her fearful of making a wrong move.
So what can parents do when they are blessed with a perfectionist?
• Praise your child’s effort, not the result. Focus on what she did well and help her to feel proud of how she did.
• Stress the importance of enjoying the process of whatever activity she is doing. Let her know it’s okay to make mistakes.
• Help her replace unrealistic goals with more reasonable ones. Oftentimes, a child’s ambitions are greater than her ability.
• Empathize with her feelings. Even if you don’t agree with her perception of her performance, let her know that you understand that she feels badly.
• Take a look at your own behavior and see what kind of message you are sending. Do you also have perfectionist tendencies?
• Keep your own emotions in check. If you overreact when your child makes a mistake she is more likely to get upset and punish herself.
You may not eliminate your child’s perfectionism but you can help her manage it. And get her back on the field and having fun.
By Susan M. Richman, MS, LGPC, Activity Rocket’s Parent Counselor
See Related Posts: Meet Susan Richman – Activity Rocket’s Parent Counselor