Is Your Child Human? Then Don’t Expect Them to Be Perfect.
Have you heard of Brené Brown? Her work around perfectionism is amazing and I wanted to share some of her insights with you. I highly recommend her books, including The Gifts of Imperfection. The first thing to know about perfectionism is that it has nothing to do with doing good work. She says, “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.” This is especially important to model to children. Being persistent, working toward a goal, and striving to improve…these actions are healthy.
In contrast, trying to always do things perfectly is a recipe for failure. No one can live up to that. Remind kids that it is okay to not understand something and to make mistakes, and then help them learn from their mistakes and continue pushing when something is hard. We rarely excel at something the first time we try it. Brown also reminds us not to fall into the trap of praising for performance. “Research shows that most perfectionists were raised being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule-following, people-pleasing, appearance, sports).
Somewhere along the way, we adopt this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect. Healthy striving is self-focused — How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused — What will they think?” she says. By all means, tell your children you are proud of them for getting good grades or scoring the winning touchdown. But focus on the means they used to get there rather than the outcome: “I am so impressed that you studied so diligently for that test and kept trying when it felt hard.” And even more importantly, tell them how much you love and appreciate them when they make mistakes. The best way to discourage perfectionism is to model imperfection. Brown says, “Perfectionism is contagious.
Be mindful of the messages that you’re sending the people around you – your kids, your partner, your co-workers, your friends. Make ‘embracing imperfection’ a family project. If the house is messy or you’re late for church or dinner is overcooked, let yourself off the hook and celebrate being imperfect. Doing this has changed our lives.” And, she adds, have compassion for yourself and your child when mistakes are made. “Practice self-compassion. We need to be kind and tender with ourselves.
Most of us talk to ourselves in ways we would NEVER consider talking to other people. We are critical instead of kind. We are judgmental instead of loving. Perfectionism is ultimately a struggle for worthiness and there’s no better place to start than remembering that our imperfections and vulnerabilities connect us to each other and to our humanity.” I would be more than happy to help you or your child combat perfectionism. If you would be interested in adding work around perfection to your child‘s sessions, or if you would like a coaching session with me for yourself, let me know.