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.

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Preventing Bullying

bullying

Written by Laura Le, LCSW

October is Bullying Prevention Month. As it approaches, here is information that can help prevent bullying and support your child if bullying is already occurring.

Whether your child has shown bullying behavior, experienced bullying, or has not encountered bullying, talking about bullying is important. When parents create an open dialogue about a topic, it communicates to their child that it’s ok to talk about these things. Waiting for your child to confide in you may unintentionally send the message that talking about teasing and bullying is taboo. Share about your own experiences with mean teasing, being excluded, or being bullied. Ask your children how they define bullying, being excluded, and the difference between good-natured and mean teasing. To foster this open dialogue, many parents also find it helpful to ask questions that can give insight into their child’s peer relationships. For example, you might ask, “Who did you sit with at lunch today?” “What’s recess like?” “Have you ever seen another kid at school get picked on?”

Responding to Bullying

We do not recommend using physical responses to bullying, as many schools have a zero-tolerance policy. That means that hitting or pushing back can cause the child being bullied trouble as well. Instead, we encourage children to try these strategies:

  • Find power in numbers. Children in a group are less likely to be singled out. Stick with friends or acquaintances. If making and keeping friends is difficult, stay near a trusted adult.
  • Stand up for yourself. Tell the bully, “Stop,” in a direct, firm tone, using eye contact. This response can be difficult to accomplish when upset or scared, so be sure to practice with your child.
  • Tell a trusted adult. When it comes to safety, telling an adult is not tattling. Talk to your child about who are the trustworthy adults in their life.
  • Talk about it. Knowing you’re not alone and learning that bullying is not your fault can help cope with the stress of bullying.

If you’re child engages in bullying behavior:

  • Be clear about what bullying behavior is and how it’s harmful to others. The definition involves an imbalance of power and repeated or persistent talk early and openly about the effect of mean words and actions.
  • Communicate that this behavior is unacceptable. Be sure to model respect as you discuss consequences.
  • Help your child identify alternative ways to interact and strategies to use when tempted to bully. If you need support in this area, reach out to a child/adolescent therapist.

If you’re child has never experienced bullying behavior, he or she can still play an important role in stopping and preventing bullying. For example:

  • Display respect and kindness to all students. Encourage your child to be brave and sit, play, or partner with others who don’t make friends as easily.
  • Stand up when you see someone being bullied. Your child can help end an incident by getting the other child away. For example, your child might invite the person being bullied to play or tell the child that a teacher needs to talk to him or her.

Preventing Bullying

For all children, regardless of how or whether bullying has impacted their lives, developing confidence and self-esteem is critical. An important way to accomplish this is helping your child find something he or she loves. Feeling competent and successful feels good! Joining clubs, classes, sports, or other groups or volunteering also offers the opportunity to meet others who share similar interests. Being with like-minded people can potentially create friendships, a critical protection against the impact of bullying.

Stay in touch with your school. Many school districts have rules and procedures about bullying in their Student Code of Conduct. Read and know the policy so that you know how to support your child. As much as possible, read the school newsletter and attend open houses and parent conference nights. Having a relationship with the other important adults in your child’s life can help you be an advocate if bullying arises.

Bullying can feel isolating and humiliating; collaborating and speaking openly can help prevent and heal.

Raising your Child to be Body Positive

body-positiveWritten by Hannah Page, MEd, LAPC, NCC

People don’t just decide to hate their bodies—they learn this from society. In today’s world, children have more access to social media, blogs, and websites, and research indicates that this results in increasing amounts of eating disorders, negative self-talk, low self-esteem, and self-hatred. According to the National Association of Eating Disorders, 81% of 10 year-olds are fearful of being fat. In fact, children as young as 7 years old are suffering from eating disorders. Babies and young children look in the mirror constantly because they LOVE how they look and are fascinated by the things their bodies can do! When did it become ok for children to stop loving their bodies? As a parent, caregiver, or anyone who is working with children…we can all help to raise kids who love themselves and teach them to be body positive. Here are some things you can do:

  1. Model a Positive Attitude towards your OWN Body & Others.
  • Parents who complain about their appearance and weight, even casually, make a big impact on how children view their own bodies. Verbalize loving your own body, and avoid talking negatively about your appearance/ weight/ size in front of your children. When you put down your own body in front of your kids, you are giving your kids the message that it is ok to not like themselves. We want our kids to grow to love every part of themselves! Avoid making statements such as, “Gosh, I have gained so much weight”, or “I was skinny like you when I was a kid, what happened to me?” Instead make positive comments such as, “I feel healthy and happy today!”
  • Look around your home and ask yourself if the products, images, and objects you have in your home model body positivity. Do you have diet products lying around? Scales in the bathrooms? Magazines or books about dieting or getting your dream body? Kids pick up on these things.
  • If you are a parent and want to diet, that is completely ok! Modeling a balanced diet and moderate exercise in front of your children is healthy and can help them learn how to nourish their own bodies. If you are watching your weight and what you eat, avoid putting negative labels on food, e.g., “I can’t eat that ice cream, it will make me fat.” Instead, model portion control and eating a variety of food (even those you may consider a “treat”) in moderation. If you are struggling to model balanced eating, it may be beneficial to seek help from a nutritionist or a therapist.
  1. Compliment Inner Traits.
  • Rather than complimenting others on their outer appearance, compliment your child and others on their behaviors, talents, and inner traits. For example, instead of saying “Your friend is so cute.” say, “Your friend was so kind when she let you borrow her bike.”
  • When watching TV with your kids, ask them questions to promote empathy. If your child is watching a TV show and a character makes fun of another character’s appearance, ask “How do you think that made the other person feel when he called her ugly?” By promoting empathy, you are helping your child understand how hurtful negative and judgmental comments may feel to others. You are also helping your child to regulate their emotional responses that they have with others.
  • Instead of commenting to your child on how slim they may be (such as, “You boys are so lucky to be thin.”), make statements such as, “Your strong body allows you to do so many things like play football.”
  1. Be Open with your Child and Talk it Out.
  • If you notice your child talking negatively about their body or if you notice them judging their bodies nonverbally (staring at self in the mirror, standing on the scale excessively, etc.), take this as an opportunity to talk with your child about how they are feeling and teach body positivity in the process.
  • First, LISTEN to your child’s feelings and validate, validate, validate. If your child says to you, “I feel fat,” or “I’m so ugly,” your first instinct may be to fix what they are saying. For example, many parents, trying to remind their children of how much they love them, say things like, “You aren’t fat!” or “You are perfect!” Although your child’s statements may seem untrue to you, they may seem true and real to your child. For this reason, it’s important to validate their statements and let them know you understand how they are feeling. Validating their statement does not mean agreeing. For example, you might say, “I understand you are feeling really upset right now.” Validating their feelings helps them know that they can talk to you about how they feel, even when they feel negative about their looks.

Parents and all caregivers, you can help address this issue and raise kids that are body positive! 

For more information, the following post summaries current research in this area and provides practical suggestions: http://binge-on-this.com/2016/02/21/neda-week-2016-day-one-eating-disorder-statistics/