I’ve been working with a perfectionist – but he’s only 5 years old !
Posted by: Sue Atkins
I’ve been working with an absolutely lovely 5 year old who is suffering already from self imposed “Perfectionism.”
He is incredibly hard on himself. When he gets some small thing wrong he has a meltdown, says “I’m terrible at everything. I can’t do it. I can’t get anything right”
It’s distressing to see and even worse to hear.
So here are some simple ways I am working with him as well as his lovely Mum & Dad.
- Tell him how much he is loved and cared about.
- Tell him how they love the way he tries so hard.
- Tell him how they love his attitude to learning.
- Tell him how they love, respect and admire his effort.
- Tell him how they love, respect and admire his tenacity ( stickability)
- Tell him how they love his keenness to do well.
- Tell him how they love his keenness to please.
- Tell him how they admire all the spellings he gets RIGHT and make a fuss of this success of 8 not the “failure” of 2 wrong
- Tell him how special he is – good at being kind to his sister, great at making up games in the garden, how good he is a Judo ……
- Teach him that mistakes are how we ALL learn – they are all part of learning.
- Talk about a famous footballer eg Wayne Rooney that he loves and how he practises every day and makes LOADS of mistakes but in time gets better
- Teach him that EVERYONE makes mistakes from Daddy to the Queen but teach him it’s what we learn from our mistakes that’s IMPORTANT.
- Teach practice makes us better but never “perfect” ! ( as it makes us more confident, more proficient, and more skilled)
- Tell him we are ALWAYS there for him no matter what – whether he gets a right answer or a wrong answer or makes a big mistake or a huge mistake. Teach him that he is loved UNCONDITIONALLY
- Look for ways to reward and praise his relaxed attitude to everything – from doing up his football laces to doing up his coat buttons.
- Look relaxed and chilled yourselves and say “Oh dear I’ve made a mistake – aaah well never mind……. I’ll have another go……” To model the attitude and behaviour you want to teach him.
The focus is to talk & teach him to be more forgiving of himself and to educate him NOW to re- correct this destructive, negative pattern as it will impact him in his life and will have an negative impact on his ability to learn, bounce back from failure or disappointment ( real or perceived) and his ability to “have a go” so needed to enjoy a happy life.
I am trained by Tony Robbins, the Peak Performance Coach, and he describes perfectionism as a ‘crazy eight.’
This is a situation in which there is a clash between two opposing forces. Those two opposing forces are in battle with each other, and they are: avoiding your greatest fear and pursuing your greatest desire.
For a perfectionist their Number 1 goal is to move towards perfection. They want everything they do/be/have to be perfect, however, the definition that they have defined for what perfection is, is so unattainable that they can never achieve it and as a result it sets off their greatest fear (the greatest fear all people share) the fear that they are ‘not enough’ not worthy of being loved and accepted for who they are.
This self defeating cycle is called a Crazy Eight.
The unknowing perfectionist will spend their entire life in this loop where every project that they embark upon sets off their greatest fear of not being good enough and then sends them into anxiety or depression when it isn’t perfect.
And the reason I know all about this so well is that I am a recovering perfectionist!
No one can ever find peace in a Crazy Eight loop. For a perfectionist to find peace in their heart they must truly let go of the idea of being perfect because it doesn’t exist and they must learn to make peace with ‘Good Enough’ – ‘My Best’ ‘ It’s Excellent’
Here are some tips to cope with perfectionism
- Try & help your child Strive for excellence, rather than perfection.
Perfection is something that happens for a certain moment of time. Even greatest artists and athletes & those who nail a 10/10 routine in every competition, can’t do that for the rest of their lives. There’s a peak performance time for all outstanding athletes, footballers, song writers or performers. For others, perfection happens fleetingly, as it’s not a constant state that can be maintained.
However, excellence can be maintained throughout life. Committing to always ‘Doing your best’ takes commitment, courage and dedication and that’s the measuring stick that your child could apply instead of perfection. So, ‘Talk & Teach’ them the difference.
- Remember things and areas of life that don’t need to be perfect to be excellent: Family and friendships for example.
- Help your child to see mistakes as natural, and all part of learning & growing in experience, because perfectionists consider mistakes to be personal failures or weakness.
- Become aware of their negative self-dialogue. Help your child to get to know the negative voices in their heads and to say to the harsh and critical voices ‘Buzz Off’ ( for more of my powerful techniques to help your child take a look at my ‘Can Do Kids Journal for Super Heroes’)
- Practice self-compassion.
‘Talk & Teach’ your child to be compassionate with themselves, so fear of failure is not exaggerated so mistakes are understood as being a natural and normal part of learning and life.
- Take the time to examine whether their goals and expectations are attainable.
If they are not, help them to give themselves permission to change them.
- Break goals down into smaller steps. To prevent overwhelm and overload break the tasks or goals down into baby steps to reduce anxiety.
As parents we are role models in everything that we do, in what we say and in how we act, so make sure you’re not consciously, or unconsciously, passing on your perfectionism traits to your children as they are watching, listening & learning from you all the time.