Perfectionism in Children


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.


What is art therapy?

Teresa Woodruff, LPC, ATR-BC, CPCS, is leading an Art Therapy 101 Workshop on Thursday, March 3, 2016 from 9:00am to 12:00pm. For more information about art therapy or to attend our art therapy workshop, email Teresa at:


Art It Out Therapy Center’s founder and director, Teresa Woodruff, is the president of the Georgia Art Therapy Association. Teresa defines art therapy, how art therapy can be beneficial and the requirements for becoming an art therapist.

what is art therapy?  Art therapy is a form of counseling that uses a combination of art and psychotherapy. Unlike talk therapy, which relies solely on the use of words, art therapy can be especially helpful for those who have difficulty putting their feelings into words and makes difficult issues safer and easier to discuss.  Within an art therapy session, a trained art therapist often encourages the client to engage in a specific art directive or activity, allowing the client to: express feelings, gain perspective, increase coping skills, improve communication skills, improve “flow” or creativity, and discuss difficult feelings. Specific art directives are intentional and planned by the art therapist to achieve the client’s goal(s). Research demonstrates that art therapy is beneficial for: reducing depression and anxiety, improving social skills, managing pain, improving inter-family relationships, and decreasing negative behaviors.

According to the American Art Therapy Association (, “Art therapists use art media, and often the verbal processing of produced imagery, to help people resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight… Art therapy provides an alternative means of communicating for those who cannot find the words to express anxiety, pain or emotions as a result of trauma, combat, physical abuse, loss of brain function, depression, and other debilitating health conditions.”

who can benefit from art therapy?  Art therapy is used with children, teens, adults, families, seniors, and groups. It is helpful for discussing strong feelings or feelings that are difficult to put into words. In addition, it can be helpful for children and teens who use art as a natural way to communicate. When feelings or experiences (such as problems with peers, chronic pain, parental divorce, or excessive worries) are difficult to verbalize, art therapy may be a way to allow clients to express feelings, work through difficulties, and gain skills for coping. While art is often the vehicle for communication or the conversation-starter, art therapists do use words with their clients. In art therapy sessions, clients may feel more at ease to express and then discuss topics that are difficult to talk about.

Previous art experience is not necessary and the focus is often on the product, or the act of making art, as opposed to the product, or creation.

how do you become an art therapist?  Art Therapists must receive master’s level training in art therapy. Unfortunately, those who receive a master’s in counseling cannot obtain a certification in art therapy. One must attend a graduate school specifically for art therapy. The art therapy master’s program includes rigorous coursework in psychology, group therapy, theories and techniques of art therapy, counseling, ethics and standards of practice, assessment, human development, and research methods. Graduate programs are 45-60 course hours and include supervised graduate internships.  For a complete list of accredited graduate programs, visit the American Art Therapy Association:

Before attending a graduate-level program, undergraduate prerequisites often include 15-18 hours of psychology courses and 15-18 hours of art courses. Specific school requirements vary and are available on each graduate school’s website.

Art therapy programs in the southeast include the Georgia College and State University and Florida State University.  Additionally, Georgia residents may also receive in-state tuition with the University of Louisville or Florida State University through the Academic Common Market. For details, visit:

what are art therapy credentials?

Criteria to become a Registered Art Therapist (ATR): a master’s degree or higher in art therapy from a program accredited by the American Art Therapy Association (AATA); a GPA of 3.0 or higher; a supervised practicum/internship with a minimum of 700 hours; 1,000 hours of post-graduate work providing art therapy to clients; a minimum of 100 hours of supervision (at least 50 of which must be with an ATR or ATR-BC; the other hours may be with a master’s level trained mental health professional).

Criteria to become a Board Certified Registered Art Therapist (ATR-BC): must be a Registered Art Therapist (ATR) and pass the Art Therapy Credentials Board Examination (ATCBE), demonstrating comprehensive knowledge of the theories and clinical skills used in art therapy. Exams are typically offered once per year and are offered at the annual American Art Therapy Association conference.

can art therapists accept insurance? Currently, Georgia does not have a license for art therapists. However, art therapists may be on insurance panels or clients may receive out-of-network insurance reimbursement if the art therapist is also licensed, such as a Licensed Professional Counselor or Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, or if the art therapist is supervised by another licensed professional.

is it necessary to be an art therapist to use art with a client? No, many therapists use art in therapy sessions, and art is a great tool for all therapists. However, art therapists are extensively trained in art therapy interventions, assessments, and implementation and have experience with a variety of art materials. They have knowledge of specific characteristics of materials and know what materials to use with specific clients.

is a coloring book “art therapy”?  There are many wonderful coloring books that allow individuals to reduce stress and relax while coloring in someone else’s design. While these are great stress-relievers and can supplement art therapy, they do not replace a trained art therapist.




Strategies for Holiday Success

Written by Laura Le

As fun as this time of year can be, changes in routine and expectations can exacerbate your child’s challenges. Many parents look at the holiday events on the calendar with dread because of the battles wrought in previous years. Other families resolve that this year will be different and hope that the same struggles do not reappear this holiday season. Here are some strategies for your family to use to ensure success in the coming weeks.

Set Expectations—for yourself and your child

A helpful approach for this time of year is progress rather than perfection. Expecting perfection from your child and yourself as a parent can lead to disappointment and frustration, especially if your child struggles with impulse control, managing emotions, or anxiety.

Consider how long the event is, the day and time, and where the event falls in your child’s usual routine. These factors can determine how long you should stay and also help predict what your child will struggle with so that you can generate possible solutions. Decide on behaviors that you consider non-negotiable and be willing to let some behaviors go—redirecting or stopping dangerous behavior is important, but ensuring that your child say please and thank you to every person at the party may not be worth the battle.

Preview and Prepmother talking with daughter

It is very important to communicate your expectations with your child. Preparing your child before a holiday party or a large family gathering can help him or her meet your expectations. A few days beforehand, find a time to discuss these expectations. Pick a time when you and your child are relaxed and free from distractions. Just after disciplining your child or in the middle of a video game raises the risk that your child will not hear you and may interpret your reminders as nagging. Keep the conversation short to help your child listen, focus, and retain the information you discuss.

Choose two or three things you want to help your child be successful at during the event then brainstorm with your child strategies that can help them in the moment. Try to focus on what you want your child to do rather than what not to do. If your child is having a hard time identifying a solution, you might share a personal experience you’ve had in a social situation and how you handled it.

Common goals many parents have for their children in social situations are greeting others appropriately, engaging in conversations and speaking with respect, and playing appropriately with other children.

kids being introduced

Greeting others appropriately. Encourage your child to say “hello” to a certain number of people. Following the idea of progress rather than perfection, a child who struggles with anxiety or attention and impulse control may not be able to greet everyone at the gathering.

Engaging in conversation and speaking with respect. Brainstorm conversation starters. Most children will benefit from some preparation about what to say if a distant relative says, “How are you?” You might help your child think of a recent event that was exciting or a gift they received. For conversations with adults your child doesn’t know well, you might help them practice appropriate responses such as, “I’m fine, thank you. How are you?”

Playing appropriately with other children.
Some children struggle to initiate or join in play with other children, while some have difficulty once they begin playing. A child who struggles with anxiety may benefit from encouragement t
o pick one child at the party to play with. If necessary, you and your child might even identify a good play candidate when entering the event so that your child can more easily apply the strategy. Children who struggle to play appropriately with others can benefit from a catchphrase you and your child agree on when prepping for the event. A favorite at Art It Out is, “Go with the flow.”

Keepithumbs upng the strategy short makes it easier for your child to remember and use. Some parents find it useful to create a nonverbal signal with their child that serves either as a reminder to use the strategy or as positive reinforcement when their child is using the strategy well. Once you have brainstormed solutions and chosen a strategy, practice with your child a few times before the event.

On the day of the event, do some behind-the-scenes preparation. Being tired and hungry are triggers for many people and cause them to struggle with their emotions and make poor choices. Even though your event might be a big dinner, making sure both you and your child have a snack before you arrive can ward off potential issues. Also, many children are able to focus and sit still for longer periods of time after they’ve had some exercise. Before a long holiday dinner, it might be helpful to go for a walk around the block.

Finally, on the way to the event or as you are arriving, briefly remind your child about your expectations and the strategies you selected together.

Be in the moment

Now that you did the hard work on the front end, assist you child in navigating the event if he or she needs any help. Offer specific praise when you catch your child using a strategy you discussed or handling a difficult situation. Be willing to overlook behaviors that did not meet your non-negotiable list, as long as your child is not in danger or overtly disrupting the event. Know when to leave and don’t feel embarrassed if your child begins to struggle.


After a little time has passed after the event, perhaps the next day, again offer praise for what your child did well. During this conversation, you might even point out positive choices that you didn’t talk about beforehand.

Making small yet meaningful changes is one way to make progress. This year, set your expectations with your child’s current ability to handle the event you are attending. Additionally, give yourself permission to leave early, when things are still going well, before fatigue has set in. And remember, progress rather than perfection.

boy happy on holiday

Using Games to Help Improve Behavior

Written by Janet Burr, MS, LPC  Family playing boardgameGame playing is one of the most effective (and fun!) ways to help children develop important skills and positive behavior. Some of the many skills practiced and developed during game playing include: taking turns, listening, following directions, impulse control, frustration management, emotional control, perspective taking, forethought, forward thinking, strategic planning, problem solving, behavioral flexibility, communication, team work, and sportsmanship. In addition, game playing promotes face-to-face interactions and connectedness that can boost a child’s self-esteem and self-worth. Game playing can also help teach children appropriate emotional expression. Who knew sitting down for some fun could be so valuable?

Here are 4 simple steps you can use when playing games to teach and develop these important skills:
(1) Verbalize
(2) Be flexible
(3) Use encouragement
(4) Be a good sport

These sound a lot like the positive behaviors we want the child to demonstrate, right? We need to model this for them to teach them how! Let’s break it down.

Verbalize everything, and I mean everything. For example, “First, I’m going to deal our cards. How many cards do we each get? [Wait for response or help them with the answer.] Ok. Help me count out loud….” and so on. Or, “Man, I just got skipped twice! That stinks because I really wanted a turn. But that’s okay because I know I’ll get another turn soon.”
By modeling verbalization for the child, we are teaching them to say what is going on in their head. Imagine if a child said to you, “I am feeling frustrated because I really wanted a turn” versus throwing their cards, kicking the game board, and throwing themselves on the floor? As a child develops the skill of verbalization, they can more effectively tell you what they need, want, or how they feel. This is a foundational skill for effective emotional expression.

Be Flexible
In order for a child to learn to “go with the flow” we have to be willing to show them what that means. So, you must be willing to lose. You may have to overlook that double jump you can make with your king in a Checkers game. Or, you may have to hold back on using your draw two card in Uno to allow the child to win. Additionally, if the child’s answer does not fit exactly but is pretty close when describing who they are in Hedbanz, just go with it. Then, follow it up with (in the Checkers example), “Oh man, I really thought I was going to get to jump you. Oh well, I’m sure I’ll get a jump soon.” Or (in the Uno example), “Wow, you totally beat me! Great game! You worked really hard.”
By modeling behavioral flexibility, we are teaching the child that even if things do not go their way, they can still have fun and be okay. This decreases emotional outbursts and increases positive social interactions. This also helps the child develop perspective taking skills (e.g., I feel good when I win, so Sam probably feels good when he wins) and good sportsmanship.

Use Encouragement
Encouragement is one of the most effective tools you can use with a child. Encouragement emphasizes the process. In contrast, praise emphasizes the product. We are used to using praise. For example, “Great job, you got an A!” focuses on the end result (the good grade), which is certainly worth rewarding; however, it infers an external control (e.g., “You are worthwhile when you do what I/the teacher/your coach wants”).

Encouragement builds self-efficacy and confidence by teaching the child that they can control themselves. For example, “You worked really hard to get this grade” sends the message that they are a responsible and capable person. Helping a child believe in themselves can tremendously impact their behavior. They quickly strive to make you proud, in turn boosting their own self-esteem and self-worth. Soon they want to prove that they can control their behaviors, act appropriately, be a leader, etc.

Here are some examples of encouraging phrases to use during game playing:
“Wow, you really thought hard about that move.”
“Waiting for your next turn took a lot of patience.”
“That was a tough one but you figured it out!”
“How did you know that? That was great!”

Be a Good Sport
Practice good sportsmanship. At the end of every game I play with even my littlest of clients, we shake hands, make eye contact, and say something positive (e.g., “Great work,” “It was fun playing with you,” “You did great”). Because they love to hear it said to them, they begin to enjoying saying it to others. This develops respect for others and the game. Practicing sportsmanship also helps build perspective taking skills, emotional regulation, and empathy.

Any game can help teach and improve individual behaviors and social interactions. Below is a list of some of the most effective games for developing the positive behaviors listed above.

Uno Attack
Connect 4 Launchers
Spot It
Count Your Chickens
Pop the Pig
Apples to Apples

Positive behavior skills can even be taught by making up games, playing cars, or having a dance party. The options are endless!


What are Social Skills and Why Do We Need Them?


Girl sitting alone

What are social skills?
The term “social skills” generally refers to the set of skills required for successful interactions. Typically, these skills include: making eye contact, starting a conversation, staying on topic, demonstrating active listening, asking appropriate questions, making and keeping friends, impulse control (physical as well as verbal), joining in with peers, following directions, compromising, and managing frustration.                             

Why are social skills important?

Studies show that social skills are important for academic success, emotional well-being, and self-esteem. Individuals with poor social skills are at a higher risk for peer rejection, behavior problems, and poor academic achievement, as well as drug abuse, teen pregnancy, suicide, delinquency, and gang involvement (Nelsen, Lott, & Glenn, 1997). Poor interpersonal skills in childhood can predict academic problems in adolescents and lead to internalizing issues, like anxiety and depression, in adulthood (Masten et al., 2005). Social skill struggles can cause people to feel rejected by their peers, which can lead to low self-esteem and negative feelings.

Why do social skills come naturally to some people?

Some of us naturally pick up on unspoken social rules, such as Looking people in the eye when you first meet them or Turning around and facing the doors in an elevator so you don’t stare at other people. When we think about it, most of us have no idea how we know these rules or if someone ever taught them to us. We probably just observed other people doing it and then realized that was what we should be doing. Often, when someone has anxiety, ADHD, learning differences, or autism spectrum disorder they do not always pick up on these unspoken rules. Their own anxiety or attention struggles may get in the way of them noticing where other people are looking or what other people are doing.

Are all social skill struggles the same?

In general, there are two distinct types of social skills deficits. The first is skill-based: The person just does not know the skill. If taught the skill, such as Walk up to your classmate and say “Hi, do you want to play with me?” they will successfully repeat the phrase or action. For these individuals, teaching social rules and norms can be extremely helpful. The second type is performance-based: The person knows the skill but anxiety, attention struggles, or low self-esteem stands in the way of successfully putting the skill into practice. They may know that they should ask people to play, but the attempts they make are not very effective. For example, they may stand too far away or speak very softly at recess when asking people to play. They may feel that peers are rejecting them but, in reality, peers do not know they are trying to interact. Some people have both a skill deficit and a performance deficit. For these individuals, it is helpful to both teach the skill and coach them on how to implement it.

What does a social skills group do?

Social skills groups are designed to teach social skills and help people execute them. Typically, a skill is introduced, then participants engage in a short activity or game where they practice the skill. Often when we try out a new skill, we don’t do it perfectly the first time. In-the-moment coaching and feedback can help people master the skill. Social skills groups that are led by a counselor or social worker tend to focus more on the group process and relationships between members. Group members are encouraged to give one another gentle feedback about their behavior. This peer feedback is the catalyst for change.

How long do people need a social skills group?

Everyone learns at a different pace. Some learners may master specific skills within months, while others may need ongoing group experience to be successful. During social skills groups, it is critical that the therapist, client, and other individuals (teachers, parents, etc.) frequently evaluate goals and progress.

Why use art in a social skills group?

We use art in groups for several reasons. The first is that art is a way to engage children and teens. Secondly, art activities provide a platform to practice the skills. Group members participate in collaborative projects, which require communication, cooperation and compromise. In addition, group members use a variety of art materials to create visual, tangible reminders that represent the skills. Then, when they see the reminders in their home, it will remind them to continue to utilize the skills outside of group. Participants do not need to be good at drawing to participate in these groups. Groups utilize paint, drawing, clay, photography, 3-dimensional materials, collage, and mixed media.

Four kids togetherTo learn more about Art It Out’s social skills groups, call us at 770-796-9589 or email us at

• Nelsen, J., Lott, L., & Glenn, H. S. (1997). Positive discipline in the classroom. Rocklin, CA: Prima Pub.
• Masten, A. S., Roisman, G. I., Long, J. D., Burt, K. B., Obradovic, J., Riley, J. R., et al. (2005). Developmental cascades: Linking academic achievement and externalizing and internalizing symptoms over 20 years. Developmental Psychology, 41(5), 733–746.