My 10-year-old daughter is a perfectionist and very sensitive. She really takes what people say about her to heart and cries. How can I help her understand that imperfection is okay?
We asked Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert, Alyson Schafer to answer.
You have the right attitude mom, imperfect is okay!
Sadly, it is very easy for our children to mistakenly conclude that mistakes are NOT okay and that only being “the best” or “being perfect” are acceptable. How do our children come to these erroneous conclusions?
Carol Dweck knows. She is the author of "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success." She found that children develop one of two types of mindsets; namely "fixed" or “growth.” Let’s look at each.
Children who adopt a "fixed" mindset believe that their traits are fixed and no amount of effort will make a difference. They believe they are either smart or dumb; a good artist or a poor artist; a good dancer or a bad dancer.
These children believe that effort is a bad thing! After all, if you have to “try” or “work at it” you must not be smart, right? If you have to practice dancing you must not have the “a good dancer” trait, right?
The “growth” mindset children believe attributes are not fixed or permanent, but instead are something requiring development, like building up a muscle.
They believe effort is a good thing! Finding a good challenge is exciting and fun for them. The more effort, the more you gain. Bring it on! Mistakes are just seen as an opportunity to learn.
So the “Perfectionist child” has developed a fixed mindset. But how? Well, this is often the result when we praise children for their successes rather than praising them for their effort.
Language is amazingly powerful. In Dweck’s study, children received two forms of feedback from their teacher after completing a test. “You did really well on the test, you must be smart” or “You did really well on the test, you must have worked really hard.” The power of that latter statement is what was mind-boggling.
Children praised for effort went on to do harder challenges, to report they enjoyed the more challenging work. The children who believed they were “smart” on the other hand chose to seek out the easier, less challenging work and avoided anything they felt they couldn’t immediately succeed at. They didn’t enjoy the harder work.
YES, our language is that important. I recommend parents help their perfectionist children move to a growth mind set by learning to be an encouraging parent and to drop all forms of praise. It requires parents to learn to put the accent in a different place: Notice effort and improvement instead of evaluating the final completed task. Emphasize the process over the end result.
“You really tackled that bed making with zeal this morning!” replaces “Your bed looks so nice.”
“Wow, look how high your tower is getting, all your patience and practice is really paying off for you.”
“Did you draw that? You must have really worked hard to get so many details and colors in there. Do you like how it turned out?”
“Hey you got those boots on all by yourself, last week you were struggling and now you have it mastered. That must feel good! All your hard work paid off.”
Now that you are aware of the problems with praise, you’re going to feel tongue tied! We praise ALL the time. Fear not. Keep practicing being encouraging. Don’t give up or get upset with yourself. You’ll get it. Mistakes are opportunities to learn, remember?