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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What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

By Chrissy McClain, MA

DBT Therapy

DBT Therapy

Do you or your teen have difficulty managing thoughts, emotions and behaviors? Have you found yourself questioning how to cope with and work through these issues on a daily or weekly basis? DBT is a therapy that has been structured to help clients gain insight and skills to work through their negative thought processes, fluctuating emotions, and unhealthy behaviors.  Although DBT was originally created by Marsha Linehan in the 1990’s for adults with Borderline Personality Disorder, this therapy has been found affective for a broad range of issues including: emotional regulation, self-harming behaviors, suicide attempts, dichotomous thinking, impulsive behaviors, labile moods and unstable interpersonal relationships. Below are some brief descriptions of the skills used in DBT to help clients move towards a healthy and fulfilled life.

  1. Mindfulness: This is a skill that has become increasingly well known in our society today. Practicing mindfulness is a way to become aware of what is going on within yourself and moving from a negative energy to peace and calmness. Some important skills to use during mindful activities include observing as many details as possible, describing those details either out loud, in a journal, or in your own mind, and fully engaging and participating in the activity.
  1. Distress Tolerance: During times of distress it is essential to find ways to cope with high emotions in order to prevent negative behaviors. DBT’s distress tolerance provides unique skills to help clients distract themselves and calm down, accept the reality of the situation, and move forward by improving the in the moment.
  1. Emotional Regulation: People seeking DBT typically have difficulty dealing with their emotional responses to any given situation. Emotional regulation is a DBT skillset that is designed to reduce vulnerability by helping people to understand and respond to their emotions more appropriately. This deeper emotional understanding leads to a more positive experience during the stress that life brings.
  1. Interpersonal Effectiveness: The final module in DBT is used to help clients build strong and lasting relationships, balance priorities, gain self-respect, and maintain the skills learned in DBT.

While using these techniques, Linehan discovered that DBT skills are most effective when paired with unconditional validation. By balancing validation with problem solving, DBT has been shown to help clients make deep and lasting changes in their life. Here at Art It Out, we have formed a DBT-informed group for high schoolers as well as individual appointments for teens and adults. For more information about how DBT may be able to help you or a loved one, feel free to contact our office by phone at 770-726-9589 or email at Chrissy@artitout.com.

“How can I change my Child’s Behavior?”

behaviorchange

Written by Cristine Seidell, BSEd, MA, LAPC

Every parent has them, and if they say they don’t…they are lying: behaviors they want their child to change.  Many families look to private practices specializing in child/adolescent therapy in order to gain insight into the best way to approach these dilemmas.  These can range from potty-training issues, temper tantrums, to self-harm practices.  Parents often come in exhausted from trying to explain to the child all the reasons why they need to stop a behavior.  At times, they have described having a tantrum themselves after becoming so exasperated with not being able to get the child to understand their reasoning.

Do a search online of “Stopping (Behavior)” and you will undoubtedly see the strategy of a reward chart.  This is the “Golden Child” of behavior change therapy.  Provide the child with an extrinsic motivator (because let’s be honest, kids are rarely intrinsically motivated. Heck! Most adults aren’t!) and they will inevitably begin to lessen an undesirable behavior.  It is classic conditioning and can be very effective, but many parents find the details of starting this type of motivation to be very confusing.

One of the biggest complaints from parents in using a reward chart is that after a week, the child is no longer interested in the reward.  This is normal.  If you were offered ice cream every week as a reward, ice cream becomes boring.  Kids are smart and get bored easily.  Parenting is not for the week of heart. We have to be fluid and ready to use our “A-Game.”  Here are a few strategies to keep a reward chart working as a behavior management tool:

  1. Begin the chart in small episodes. Make the reward timeframe age-appropriate.  This means for younger children a daily reward will be more effective than a weekly reward. A 4-year old is not going to be able to keep their motivation up for an entire week, but a 10-year old more likely can.
  2. Slowly increase the expectation for a reward with accomplishment. If the child has to earn 2 gems, have that number increase to 3 within a few days.  This is effective ONLY if they have accomplished the 2-gem reward.  Talk to your child about how cool it would be to earn 3 gems, accomplish a goal, and build confidence.
  3. For younger children especially, keep a little mystery to reward. One way of doing this is to wrap up their reward in wrapping paper.  Maybe even set it out on the counter for them to see as a motivator of what MIGHT be inside.  Rewards that can be wrapped can range from mini-figures, play makeup, playdoh, coins, candy, or pictures of them as younger children with a story about it.  For older children who can go longer periods of time between rewards, include movie tickets, gift cards, invitations for a parent date, etc.  However, continue to place them in envelopes or wrap them up to keep the mystery going.
  4. Slowly begin expanding the length of time needed to earn a gem. If after a month the child is consistently earning a daily reward, move the reward to every other day. It’s very important, however, to keep the praise of the behavior daily in order to help the child sustain motivation.

Changing problematic behaviors is always challenging for parents.  Regardless of the parent’s desire to help, modifying behavior with a reward chart program can only be effective when the system is well thought out and the parent feels confident in managing it completely.  Join Art It Out Wednesday, October 12, 2016 at 7:00 pm for a Behavior Management Parent Workshop, where you will begin to design, make, and be coached on an effective rewards chart for YOUR child.  Call us at 770-726-9589 for more details or email at Cristine@artitout.com.  Childcare available with appropriate RSVP.