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Mental Health

Anxiety in Children – 10 Practical Strategies to Help Kids Manage Perfectionism

An anxious mind can be a very creative and innovative mind. This is wonderful, except when the same imagination and inventiveness are used to create futures that seem unacceptable, no matter how unrealistic they are. These ‘could’ thoughts drive self-talk, which in return leads to action towards doing whatever is necessary to prevent a negative consequence. Hello, perfectionism. When perfectionism takes hold, it does so not in a nice, ‘I’ll be here for you in case you need me’ sort of manner, but rather in an ‘oh let me be with you and defend you and never let you go’ type of way. Perfectionism is persistent, and although it can be beneficial, it can also be smothering and exhausting!

Just to be sure … What does perfectionism mean?

Something can only be considered a problem if it causes a problem, like with everything that our kids do. The behaviors that encourage perfectionism may differ based on the child, but here are a few examples:

  • Avoid trying anything that is novel or untested (in order to avoid failure or error).
  • Difficulty finishing work or being sluggish to finish (due to repeated reviewing or repeating to ensure no errors).
  • Procrastination occurs when it is simpler not to begin than to face the prospect of failure.
  • More likely to seek assistance rather than attempt the task on their own. We don’t want to discourage people from requesting help, but if the request is motivated by teens fighting against anxiety about getting it wrong, it can be suffocating and prevent people from daring and taking life-giving risks.
  • If they make a mistake or perceive that whatever they focus on is less than perfect, they may give up or become distressed, furious, impatient, or upset.
  • Ability to think in absolutes – if something isn’t ideal, it’s bad/wrong/stupid.
  • Self-criticism is a tendency.

Something about perfection does not feel quite right. Actually, it can feel… bad.

There will always be aspects of ourselves that sparkle and sections that are folded and imperfect. We require all of them. Losing and falling are unavoidable aspects of being human, thus avoiding them is an unachievable commitment. It’s also potentially harmful. The pursuit of perfection is frequently accompanied by self-criticism, worry of negative appraisal, and a tendency to experience guilt when things don’t go according to schedule.

In basic terms, perfectionism suffocates healthy risk-taking, it stops development so creases can be smoothed out (and out and out), it inhibits discovery, and it hinders progress. 

But everything has an opposite side.

Perfectionism may hold youngsters back, but underlying perfectionistic impulses lie the seeds of incredible perseverance, determination, and a daring pursuit of what feels important. The idea is to cultivate these characteristics while avoiding the behaviors that suffocate them. This is when you come into play.

  1. Let it be about being courageous rather than being right/ brilliant/ wonderful (since bravery contains all of these qualities).

Courage is a rich, luminous attribute that will enable our children to get through the difficult times that will come their way. Disappointments or blunders can take anyone down for a while, but it requires guts to pick yourself up and attempt again, or to let go and move on with compassion and prepared for another chance.

  1. Allow for the possibility of failure.

It takes effort to learn and master difficult things. Even after the lessons have been acquired and the talents have been sorted, the polishing process can take a while more. It’s no surprise that growing up as a kid is so demanding! Gentle comments regarding how hard they tried and the challenges of the work can assist in removing any anxiety or shame associated with failure or unforeseen results. ‘Being a goaltender can be difficult some days, can’t it? ‘I like how hard you worked today.’ This additionally strengthens their bond with you, increasing their emotions of security and comfort and increasing the chance of daring behaviors and health risks. 

Regardless of how honest and kind their parents are in facing the prospect of failure, some children may feel nervous. Whatever we can do to teach our children that failure and mistakes are part of the process, not the end result, will make failure more unlikely to result in feelings of inferiority. 

  1. Take away their shame’s influence and return it to them.

The need for perfection originates from the desire to avoid feeling embarrassed if one misses a beat. Even the most resilient among us may run for cover when faced with shame since it is a huge beast. Bringing the story that generates shame into the open is the most effective approach to removing it. Shame thrives on the secret and hiding of our tales. Talking gives us “proof” that even when we falter, fail, or fall, we’re still doing alright and occasionally even better than alright. Support the discussion of incorrect moments, but refrain from passing judgment, criticizing, or making them feel good. When they realize it’s not a huge thing and that they are still your heroes, they will feel great. Allow them to experience how it feels to own their flaws in a setting of safety, security, and love without self-blame, sympathy, or attempts to talk them out of their emotions. They will learn from this that their flaws do not diminish who they are or how much they are valued or talented.

  1. Allow their imperfections to connect with yours.

It will be easier to connect with your child if you are able to share your own sentiments about your own flaws. ‘That sounds upsetting for you,’ for example. That has occurred to me, and it has been disturbing for a while.’ When the people we care about are in pain, it’s natural to want to ‘fix’ their problems and smooth out the rough boundaries, but we don’t have to. Sometimes the most important thing we can do is to hold our own suffering at bay long enough for them to make the findings that will build them.

  1. Promote self-compassion. It’s not the concept itself that causes harm; it’s how they react to it.

Trouble might stride in like a rock star to a stage when youngsters have inflexible views about how things (or they)’should’ be. Self-compassion is an answer to this. The path forward becomes simpler when kids (or any of us) handle setbacks with self-compassion. Self-compassion necessitates bravery. It entails acknowledging the unpleasant aspects of ourselves and our stories and approaching them with tolerance and a willing heart. To practice self-compassion, we must first fight the urge firmly ingrained in many of us to blame, ignore, and divert. These are perfectly normal reactions – they are how we protect ourselves from the discomfort of rejection but they can keep us abandoned. According to studies, self-compassion reduces the intensity of perfectionism. Kristen Neff, a self-compassion researcher, has found three components of self-compassion: 

  • self-kindness– Self-kindness is the opposite of self-criticism. ‘I made a blunder. That’s OK. I’ll get it next time,’ or, ‘That didn’t work out the way I thought. ‘What can I take away from this?’
  • link to our common humanity – recognizing the challenges we face as part of being human, rather than an indication of our own weaknesses or shortcomings. Encourage honest, non-judgmental, sympathetic discussion about faults and disappointments (yours and theirs);
  • Mindfulness entails allowing uncomfortable thoughts and emotions to pass without assigning more importance to them than they deserve. 
  1. Imperfection is an unexpected companion.

Kids must learn that their lives will be filled with tasty highs and depressing lows. As caring parents, we may feel a strong desire to shield our kids from sadness. Sometimes though, an adequate amount of protection might nudge into the zone of ‘over-protecting’. It’s likely to happen because we’re parents and humans. A healthy life entails being able to gain knowledge from the lows as well as enjoy the highs. Allow them to express their emotions, even if they are dissatisfied whenever possible. This may increase your own anxiety – it’s always hard to see someone we care about in distress – but if we can resist the urge to save them (or ourselves), we can give them the possibility to discover that the uneasy emotions that come with failure aren’t always a reason to avoid being courageous. If we are able to leave the door slightly ajar for these thoughts, our children will learn that any negative sentiments associated with imperfection will not endure long. There is no requirement to ‘correct’ the emotions that are opposing them. 

  1. This is how I perceive you. (I also like what I see.)

Kids, like the rest of us, may perceive their test findings as an aspect of themselves. Help them concentrate on the procedure rather than the outcome to strengthen and nourish that image. I admire how hard you worked on that. You had some excellent suggestions for your work.’ Support their point of view by saying, ‘You want to perform well in this, don’t you?’ and then add, ‘I can see how hard you’re working.’ This allows them to realize that their flaws do not change who they are. They can make blunders while also being dedicated, determined, bold, and strong. Imperfection is a condition that occurs at a specific point in time and does not negate how excellent they are.

  1. How would you treat a tiny version of yourself?

Even adults have a young child within them. It’s the carefree, daring side – someone in search of love, security, and a soft refuge to sink into when the world gets too much. Even if we are unconscious of this aspect of ourselves, it is present and powerful. Our children will not always be able to find the sympathy or kindness they require from the outside world, but they can find it inside themselves. This is a quality that will empower them from within, and it will be nourished via dialogue. To start with, set a light on the things they tell themselves when they find themselves ‘not well enough’ or when they are anxious about not being sufficient. ‘What goes through your head when you consider not receiving an ‘A’?’ These messages are strong, and they are frequently automatic and go unnoticed. Bringing things into public view is an effective way to prevent them from having such a strong influence on behavior. When your child understands the messages, ask them how they would feel if they witnessed someone saying anything like that to a tiny child. What would a tiny child think? Would it make it simpler or harder for the little child to perform his or her best? What could be more appropriate? What could you say to make that little youngster feel more secure, fearless, and powerful? 

  1. Accountability for the outcomes of perfectionism.

Perfection has effects, including tension, snapping, disassociation, and rudeness. We only have so much to offer, and when we commit so much to one thing, other things suffer – friendships, family ties, the ability for pleasure, exploration, healthy risk-taking, and wonder. Although perfection is sometimes pursued with the greatest of intentions, it may also promote rigidity and inflexibility, as well as cause incorrect priorities to be valued. 

  1. Assure them that they have the ability to make mistakes as many times as necessary.

They have permission to make mistakes, to go beyond the boundaries of what feels safe. Giving kids the room to own any mistakes they may make is one of the most important things we can do as parents to help them move ahead. When we condemn, judge, or tell them ‘I told you so’ (and how many times have I wanted to do that! ), we make it tougher for them to think about what they have done because they will feel much more need to defend them. Nobody likes to be made to feel stupid. Not even a three-year-old, ten-year-old, forty-year-old, or eighty-year-old. fewer times we can make children feel that way, the more possible it is that they will learn and find their way through any problem that comes their way with courage.

And finally…

As parents, it’s essential that we keep our own perfectionist messages in control. Kids will always remember what we do more than what we say. When we, as parents, tell our children that we welcome the ebbs and flows that will accompany their journey through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, we empower them to do the same. This independence is life-giving, and it will help them discover their position in the world, learn from their failures, and discover what flames them up from within.