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Helping Perfectionist Kids Take the Pressure Off Themselves

Dear Dr. Borba,

My ten-year-old is first in her class, and it makes her nuts. She stayed up until one in the morning last night memorizing state capitals. I worry that if she keeps up this pace she’ll have a nervous breakdown. She is a great kid, smart as a whip with an IQ in the ozone, and I swear I don’t push her. What should I do?

Sound familiar? I can’t tell you how many similar questions I receive from parents with kids who are perfectionists.

Of course we want our children to reach their potential and to excel. Of course we want them to get those great grades and succeed. But often kids feels so much pressure that they become obsessed to doing everything so perfectly to an unhealthy degree. And that can leave them feeling anxious, frustrated and worried most of the time.

Another problem with perfectionists is that they often put those pressures on themselves. “Will it be enough?” “What will others think?” ”Why did I miss that one point?””I have to stay up later…I won’t get a perfect score!” ”But it isn’t GOOD enough I need to work harder!”

Because they’re never satisfied and always pushing themselves, they are often frustrated with their performance. Of course always wanting to be perfect to an extreme can take a toil on our children’s emotional health as well as disrupt their lives.If they keep up that push, push, push, never-good-enough pace, all that heightened stress can put them in jeopardy for anxiety, depression, eating disorders, migraines headaches, and even suicide. Perfectionists are also more at risk for emotional, physical as well as relational problems.

But let’s keep in mind that this isn’t just a “big kid issue.” Even preschoolers are beginning to exhibit this problem. We see this “I’m never good enough” concept especially in our gifted and talented kids. Here are signs to watch for:

Signs of Kid Perfectionists

~ Always comparing themselves to others; can’t stand coming in second place or doing worse than others; wants to be the best and anything less not good enough

~ Migraines or headaches, stomach aches, trouble sleeping, or other physical ailments before, after, or during a performance

~ Too cautious about trying something new that may be outside of his area of expertise and mean he may not excel

~ May put others down. All in an effort to be their best and make the other person feel less perfect – or inadequate

~ May put the same high standards on others

~ Worrying it won’t be good enough; or fears failure. Avoids difficult or stressful tasks; leaves work unfinished out of fear it won’t be perfect…

Read more: Dr. Michele Borba

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