Perfectionism in Children

perfectionism

by Hannah Page, MEd, NCC, LAPC

Perfectionism is a term we are hearing more often in today’s world, and it is also a trait we are seeing more commonly in children and adolescents. Perfectionism is not entirely a negative trait; in fact, there are many positives of perfectionism. Perfectionism may help individuals set personal standards and pursue significant goals, which is important to be successful in life. According to the National Association for Gifted Children, healthy perfectionism includes:

  • Doing the best you can with the time and tools you have, and then moving on
  • Setting high personal standards with a gentle acceptance of self
  • Managing behaviors to not interfere with daily life

Perfectionism can become unhealthy when it starts to interfere with one’s lifestyle and causes pain, stress, procrastination, and underachievement. Perfectionism is a form of anxiety and appears to stem from a combination of environmental influences and inherent tendencies. These may include extreme praise from parental figures; excessive demands from parents, teachers, and coaches; observations of adults modeling perfectionism behaviors; and parental affection being reliant on the child’s outstanding accomplishments. According to the National Association for Gifted Children, unhealthy perfectionism includes:

  • Experiencing extreme persistent anxiety about making mistakes
  • Perceiving that one’s work is never good enough
  • Feeling guilty if not engaged in meaningful work at all times
  • Having a compulsive drive to achieve, where personal value is based on what is accomplished
  • Feeling continually dissatisfied about one’s work, leading to anxiety, depression, and feelings of worthlessness

How you can help your child overcome perfectionism:

  1. Educate your Child on Perfectionism:

Talk to your child and be open. Often, kids become so upset with themselves because they don’t understand why they are feeling so frustrated, anxious, and dissatisfied with their work. By helping your child understand what perfectionism is, you are also able to normalize the perfectionism so your child does not feel so alone. Help your child understand that perfectionism may make individuals be overly critical of themselves, and it might make individuals feel scared or anxious to try new things, which might lead to avoidance or procrastination. Help your child gain perspective by letting them know one bad grade doesn’t mean they are worthless, and one bad performance doesn’t mean they will never be able to have a good performance.

  1. Teach Positive Self-Talk:

Children who struggle with perfectionism tend to be very rigid thinkers as well, seeing things only in black and white, or good and bad. They tend to have a difficult time seeing in-between and the grey areas. For example, an individual who has perfectionism may believe that they are only good if they get an A+, and if they get anything below an A+ they view themselves as a failure. Help your child see the grey areas, and help them understand that even if they get a B, that is still a fantastic achievement! Many children who struggle with perfectionism have intrusive self-critical thoughts. Help your child to learn positive self-talk to replace those self-critical thoughts. Here are some examples of positive self-talk:

  • “I tried my best, and I am happy about that”
  • “No one is perfect; it is okay to make mistakes”
  • “I don’t have to be perfect, my best is good enough”

Together, you and your child can come up with some positive self-talk statements. Make it a fun activity, and make artistic positive self-talk cards! Have your child practice positive self-talk statements daily, especially when he/she is feeling self-critical. As a parent, it is also helpful for you to model positive self-talk by saying positive self-talk statements out loud when you make a mistake! Kids learn so much from observation.

  1. Use Praise and Encouragement:

It is extremely important to praise and encourage efforts instead of accomplishments and outcomes. Praising efforts encourages children to continuously challenge themselves and teaches children that reward comes through effort, not only from achievement. By encouraging your child’s efforts, we send the message that accomplishments are rooted in hard work and practice, and teach children that when they challenge themselves with difficult tasks, their hard efforts help them to succeed. When parent’s focus only on rewarding achievement’s such as straight A’s or being the “fastest” runner on the track team, children avoid trying new behaviors that may be more challenging to them due to fear of failure, or not meeting parent’s expectations.

Instead of praising success (ex: “Your artwork looks perfect!” or “I am so proud you got first place!”, say things such as “Wow! I can tell you worked so hard on this art project” or “Wow! You had so much confidence out there today, you really were trying your best!”

Perfectionism in children is common, especially in today’s world. As parent’s and caregivers, we can help kids of all ages to overcome their perfectionism and become more flexible, and kind to themselves. If you are concerned your child or loved one is struggling with unhealthy perfectionisms, follow the above tips to best help them overcome their struggles. It may be beneficial to also seek consultation from a Mental Health Professional.

Advertisements

Spring Forward into Happiness!

happy-adults

Traditionally, psychologists have focused their attention on what makes depressed people depressed. Yet recently, a small group of scientists has turned the question on its head. Now they are asking: “What makes happy people happy?

Why Happiness?

According to a wide-ranging international study, depression is the most disabling disease in the world:

Nearly twenty percent of U.S. citizens experience some form of depression during their lifetime. Americans are taking so many antidepressants that, according to the New York Times, the water supplies of major U.S. cities are now contaminated with traces of these drugs.

The problem is not limited to adults. The American Psychological Association reports that “as many as 9% of children will experience a major depressive episode by the time they are 14 years old, and 20% will experience a major depressive episode before graduating from high school.”

Statistics show that children who have suffered from depression are more vulnerable to depression as adults.

Depression, anxiety, and other negative psychological experiences have been researched from almost every angle. So we know a lot about what causes negative psychological responses, but not a lot about what might cause positive psychological effects. Positive Psychology has shifted the focus toward such research.

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.

If perspective is reality, then a positive perspective could be a game-changer. Research shows that engaging in techniques for positive growth and change can help:

Buffer against, manage and overcome problems
Improve your relationships
Enhance health and overall well-being

How Do I Get Happy?

Working with a licensed therapist can be beneficial in order to explore one’s life experiences more fully and from a trained clinical perspective. Below are some examples of techniques that can be done on your own to promote positive growth and change.

Clear Mind Procedure

  1. Write down everything that’s on your mind on one piece of paper (use more than one piece if you need).
  2. Create three columns on a second piece of paper, and label them: To Be Done; Maybe Later; and Delete. Sort all the items on the first piece of paper into the three columns on the second piece of paper.
  3. Take each item from the Delete column, send it off into space, and tell it never to return (with a corny little ceremony if that helps).
  4. Take the items from the Maybe Later column and put them on a Maybe Later list. (If you don’t keep one, start one).
  5. Take the items from the To Be Done column and put them into your planning system. (If you don’t have a planning system, get one).

Gratitude Moments

Gratitude journals can be extremely beneficial when attempting to shift one’s perspective; however, many clients find it a daunting task to journal at length and often do not follow through long enough to see real results.

Build in gratitude “moments” throughout the day:

    1. Recognize moments of joy, thankfulness, comfort, and peace.
    2. Acknowledge both the positive emotion and the positive effect.
    3. Say out loud a statement of gratitude. For example, “Thank you for this moment” or “I feel joyful” or “That was nice.”
    4. Repeat as often as possible.

Art Promotes Happiness Too!

Art and expressive therapy have also been shown to demonstrate healing and happiness. Stuckey and Nobel (2010) reported: Use of the arts in healing does not contradict the medical view in bringing emotional, somatic, artistic, and spiritual dimensions to learning. Rather, it complements the biomedical view by focusing on not only sickness and symptoms themselves but the holistic nature of the person. When people are invited to work with creative and artistic processes that affect more than their identity with illness, they are more able to create congruence between their affective states and their conceptual sense making. Through creativity and imagination, we find our identity and our reservoir of healing. The more we understand the relationship between creative expression and healing, the more we will discover the healing power of the arts.

At Art It Out, we believe in the positive impact art, color, and creativity can have on a person’s outlook and wellbeing.

How Do I Learn More?

Potential clients – Give us a call today to find out more about Art It Out and our therapeutic services. Reach us @ 770.726.9589 or www.artitout.com

 

Professionals – Join Janet Burr, LPC for her upcoming CEU seminar THE ART OF ENCOURAGEMENT: CREATIVE INTERVENTIONS FOR POSITIVE GROWTH AND CHANGE on Friday, March 17th at Art It Out Therapy Center http://www.artitout.com/workshops/ or on Friday, April 21st at Ridgeview Institute http://www.ridgeviewinstitute.com/hosp_info_calendar_prof.htm.

 

  1. WHO report,  Mental and Behavioral Disorders, 28.
  2. NYT, Drugs Are in the Water. Does It Matter?
  3. American Psychological Association, School-Based Program Teaches Skills That Stave Off Depression, October, 2003.
  4. Stuckey, H. L., & Nobel, J. (2010). The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature. American Journal of Public Health, 100(2), 254–263. http://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2008.156497

The Mind/Body Connection, Part II: Exercise

 

African American family hiking.

Written by Laura Le, LCSW

This post is the second in a series on the connection between physical health and mental wellness. Look for future posts on this connection in the coming months!

A pervasive message in our culture is that Americans are not getting enough exercise—you and I aren’t, and our children aren’t. Even though most of us know we and our children should be more active, many of us struggle to do so. Below, find information on how exercise can help children cope with symptoms of anxiety, depression, and ADHD, as well as strategies for incorporating more exercise into daily life.

How Exercise Helps

The mental health benefits of exercise are well-researched and commonly accepted among most mental health and health professionals. Additionally, many Americans know that moderate physical activity releases feel-good chemicals in the brain called endorphins. Specifically, exercise creates new neurons in the brain and releases a specific chemical called GABA, which improves symptoms of both anxiety and depression. This link was most recently studied by researchers at the University of California at Davis Medical Center. Another set of chemicals that exercise can trigger are called serotonin and dopamine. According to John Ratey at Harvard University, these brain chemicals can have a similar impact on children as medications such as Adderall or Ritalin. For people who struggle with anxiety, the sensations of breathing fast and of a fast-beating heart that come with exercise can mimic the feeling of anxiety and panic that they experience. In that sense, exercise can serve as a way to expose children to these feelings in a safe way and help them practice having and managing these sensations. Additionally, several studies in the academic journal Psychosomatic Medicine by James Blumenthal linked exercise to improving depressed mood and preventing relapse back into depression.

While consistent exercise reduces stress, anxiety, and symptoms of depression, a study widely reported (from the New York Times to Shape Magazine) in October 2016 found that exercising while intensely upset increased the risk of a heart attack by three times. These studies were done on adults, so there are no data for children; however, it is no longer recommended to exercise while mad. Rather, learning and practicing relaxation techniques throughout the day and week, when already calm, are a physically healthier way to manage anger, stress, or frustration.

How to Get Moving

So how can you help your child or teen reap the benefits of these brain chemicals and improve their mood, focus, attention, and well-being? Here are some ideas to try.

Match your natural rhythm

While exercising after school can be a good outlet after sitting in school all day, the afternoon is not the only option. One family I know wakes up a little early so that they can ride bikes or scooters before school. Regardless of what time of day works best for your family, try to keep the time consistent so that physical activity becomes part of the daily routine.

Multi-task

Exercise as a family. Walking around the neighborhood together can help facilitate conversation and allow families to reconnect after a busy day or to connect before encountering the challenges of the day. Research out of Stanford University shows that being in nature has also been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Several researchers are now studying the impact of time in nature on ADHD symptoms. On the weekends, try packing a picnic lunch in a local park to combine family time and exercise. If you have time for a longer activity, look up a local hiking trail at www.traillink.com.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em

Some parents struggle with their child or teen over screen time. Video games and YouTube videos are mentally stimulating and can be difficult to shift attention away from. Add to that a child or teen who does not like exercise, and increasing the amount of exercise can seem insurmountable. Some families in this situation embrace movement-based games like Pokémon Go, while others dust off their old Wii to encourage some physical activity for their reluctant exerciser.

Embrace a range of activities

Brainstorm with your child or teen about what “counts” as exercise and physical activity. Be creative. Just be sure your heart rate increases and you breathe harder, and sustain that effort! Some ideas? Gardening. Shopping. Sweeping/mopping/vacuuming (plus, you get a clean house!). Shoveling snow. Jumping on a trampoline. Hula hooping. Walking the dog. Doing a yoga or Pilates class or video. Jogging. Mowing the lawn. Playing an organized sport. Swimming. Dancing. Playing tag. Riding a bike or scooter. Using equipment at the gym. Playing at the park. Shooting hoops or playing catch in your driveway. Washing the car. Taking an exercise class at the gym. Raking leaves. Just be sure your child or teen enjoys the activity so that he or she continues to stay active.

Exercise alone is not a sufficient approach for someone struggling with anxiety, depression, or ADHD so much that it interferes with daily life. If your child or teen is having trouble, contact us to get support on integrating exercise into other effective treatments.

What to do when your child just won’t go to school

Written by Teresa Woodruff, LPC, ATR-BC, CPCS

Child won't go to school

This time of year, we have a lot of parents ask for tips for getting their children to go to school.  We find that children have the most difficulty with regular school attendance after they have been ill, when they have a stressful event at school coming up (such as testing), or if there has been a recent transition (beginning a new school or a change in teacher).  Sometimes a child seems fine until it’s time to go to school and then all of a sudden they complain about feeling sick, have a tantrum, cling to a parent, or simply refuse to leave the house.  Physical symptoms can be real, including:  headaches, stomachaches, nausea, or even vomiting.  I know it is tough as a parent to know when to push your child and when they need your comfort.  Here are a couple tips for managing school refusal and how to decrease your child’s anxiety regarding school:

  1. Don’t let them stay home. In my house, we have a rule “If you have a fever or throw up, you stay home; otherwise, you go to school.”  Once a child learns that they can stay home just because they asked, they will naturally ask more often.  Also once they do stay home, it makes it even that much more difficult to return to school.
  2. When necessary, try progressively staying longer at school. If your child experiences anxiety regarding going to school or staying at school and has gotten out of the habit of staying all day every day, try to gradually increase the amount of time that he/she stays at school.
  3. Establish a safe person at school for your child to talk to. This can be a teacher, counselor or even the school nurse.  Let this adult know that you want your child to feel safe and be able to confide in them but you also would appreciate if they encourage your child to return to class as soon as possible.
  4. Talk to the teacher. Let your teacher know what is going on and ask if they have noticed any negative peer experiences, your child playing alone at recess, difficulty performing schoolwork or any other classroom situations that could be contributing to your child not wanting to attend school.
  5. Create a “Feel Good” kit. Allow your child to add a favorite stuffed animal (depending on age), a special motivating note from you, and a reminder of coping skills, such as:  think of something you love, take 10 deep breaths, or squeeze your fits than release 5 times.
  6. Create motivation such as after-school playdates or trips to the dollar store. This gives your child something to look forward to after school so that he/she will have something else to focus on. A sticker reward chart may also be helpful:  allow your child to earn a sticker for every day that he/she goes to school and stays all day.  Set aside a number of stickers that equal a prize, such as:  10 stickers earns you a trip to the zoo.

Please know that you are not alone.  Many children experience school refusal.  Try to be kind but firm with your child.  If his/her school attendance does not improve, talk to a professional.  If your child’s anxiety persists or is more intense that you think it should be, consult with a child therapist.  Your child may be experiencing separation anxiety.  A child therapist can help your child learn coping skills and can help you, the parent, learn ways to support your child through this.