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It’s my fault my child is a perfectionist

[Read a similar post on: Normalizing Mistakes]

The other day, a parent said to me “I know it’s my fault that my daughter is such a perfectionist.” I could tell that she was feeling so guilty.

Like all of us feel when we see characteristics we don’t love in ourselves show up in the tiny humans we love so much. 

First, let’s define perfectionism. Perfectionism is needing to get something right the first time.

In life, we almost always have a second or third chance to get things right. For those of us (myself included) who have a perfectionist tendency, we’re hard on ourselves if we don’t get something right the first time. The first time piece of this is an important distinction- and one that will allow us to think more flexibly about mistakes.  

So, I said to this parent, maybe your daughter is such a perfectionist because of you. Just like maybe she is kind because of you, and maybe she chews on her right side first because of you. Just like she is smart because of you, and just like she brushes her teeth in circles because you brush your teeth in circles. Just like she likes to cannonball into the pool, because you showed her how to do it one time. I would be lying if I said that we weren’t a main influence in our kids’ lives. Of course we are, and lucky us that we get to be.  

But, our kids are also perfectionists because of what the rest of the world is telling them. 

For most kids in school, getting the right answer the first time is reinforced daily. If they didn’t do well on a test, there are few chances to make it up. If they don’t get something right immediately, then another peer will answer that question before them. Remember in school how you’d raise your hand to answer and your teacher said, “Nope, that’s not it. Anyone else?” and of course little Jamie in the back steps in to answer and you’re left with having gotten the answer wrong. 

At soccer practice, you get one chance to shoot at the goal and if you miss it then you go to the back of the line and have to wait for everyone else to go before you can try again. 

A big part of why kids are perfectionists is also because of the conditioning that’s around them that shows them that they have one shot. 

We know that in life, we have much more than one shot. If we don’t get something right we try again. That’s what we’re always working on with resilience– our kids ability to always try and try, and try again until it’s right. 

But really think about it. Is school made up that way? What messaging is our child getting about being right on the first try? That’s hard to control, but it’s important to realize. A child’s outside life is comprised of so much messaging around being right the first time. 

So, maybe you’re right. Maybe part of the reason why your kid is a perfectionist is because you are a perfectionist. 

And, if so, that’s wonderful! 

We can’t control school, and we can’t control soccer practice, but we can control ourselves! 

So, how great that your child is a perfectionist partially because you are. What a strong place to start. 

If all we can control is ourselves, what can you do that gives your kid a different example of your own response to being right at the first try? 

Can you share about the last time you made a mistake? How do you react when you get something wrong at work? 

When we make a mistake, sometimes we wake up in the morning still replaying that moment over and over, and sometimes we forget about it the second after it happens. How can we lean into shaking off our mistakes, and allowing ourselves to get it right on the second or third (or sixth or sixteenth) try?

Our kids will see this, and it will impact them. I promise.

That is a big part of what I work on in the Resilient Reader Program. 

The reason why this program is so effective, the reason why 100% of kids in this program have a higher reading level with more confidence by the end of the program, is because we focus on the parent’s mindset around mistakes in addition to the child’s own mindset. This allows each child to see that making mistakes happens to adults too! It’s amazing what this one piece can do. 

As our kids get older, we are more limited in the influence we have over the outside factors in their lives. 

If the biggest thing we can do for our kids is be their biggest influence, then the biggest thing we can do for our kids is work on our own reaction and allow our kids to notice. 

There’s more to do after you work on your own reactions, but start with this one piece. Let me know how it goes, and I’ll give you the next step from there. 

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