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How to Avoid Falling Into the Trap of Creating a Perfectionist

What is perfectionist parenting?

The dictionary defines perfectionism as the refusal to accept any standard short of flawless. By extrapolation, perfectionist parenting is a child-rearing doctrine where parents set unrealistically high expectations for their children. Whether it’s a hundred percent in every test, a win in every game, or perfect behavior at all times, anything less than the best is deemed unacceptable.

Unlike authoritarian parents, not all perfectionist parents are harsh. Many are loving and nurturing, too. Yet they model their perfectionistic tendencies through an obsessive zeal towards their own personal and professional goals, and by defining their self-worth by the sum of their life’s accomplishments alone.



Derogatory effects of perfectionist parenting

As a perfectionist-in-remission myself, I have, until recently, failed to see my perfectionist tendencies as a character flaw. But once I started observing how my verbal and non-verbal cues were impacting my five-year-old son, it became apparent that perfectionism is detrimental to raising mentally strong and resilient children. Here’s why:

Low self-esteem

Perfectionist parents set lofty goals. The children, either, manage to achieve those goals (a “success”) or they fall short (a “failure”). This binary thinking leads to excessive self-criticism, second guessing actions, and a crippling fear of failure. There is no middle ground, no room for celebrating improvements, personal bests, or hard work.

This attachment of worth to outcome rather than to the journey leads to low self-esteem. Some children may become so demotivated that they’re afraid to try new things altogether. This resignation leads to a vicious cycle of failure by non-action.

Imposter syndrome

When perfectionist children do manage to achieve success, they may feel like they simply got lucky. Such children are in a constant panic of the next test, which might expose them as imposters. This deep-seated anxiety is the root cause of unhappiness in them even (and especially) when they are at the top of their games.

Health concerns

Perfectionists have a tendency to disregard their physical and emotional well-being in their quests to succeed. If perfectionism remains unchecked and attains neurotic levels, it could be the source of a hoard of physical and mental disorders, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and even suicide.

Is your child a perfectionist in the making?

The derogatory effects noted above don’t happen overnight. So how can you identify whether your young child is at a risk of developing these tendencies before it’s too late? Here are some tell-tale signs:

Obsession with flawlessness

If a child suffers a meltdown every time things deviate by an iota from the plan, then chances are you have a perfectionist in the making.

Lack of sportsmanship

Being a sore loser is another classic sign. If your child is fiercely competitive, focused on the scorecard above everything else, and hates losing, he may be tending towards perfectionism.

An all-or-nothing approach to challenges

Because perfectionists have an inherent need to be right the first time, they may postpone doing things until they are a hundred percent sure they will succeed.

Excessive self-criticism and difficulty letting go

Berating oneself, getting frustrated when faced with roadblocks, having meltdowns, or finding it difficult to let “perceived” negative outcomes go are all signs of a perfectionist in the making.

Techniques to curb perfectionism in your child

Small children, being plastic, can be easily molded in their habits with conscious and committed effort. Here are some techniques that have worked for us:

Teach failure

Do a self-assessment and see if you are only showing them the shiny bits of your personality and glossing over the areas where you are struggling. If it’s a yes, then change your narrative.

Acknowledge your blunders. Let them know, repeatedly, that you (and for that matter no one) is perfect, and nobody gets it right the first time. Show them your failures with as much love and care as you show them your successes. Model for them how to be a graceful loser when things do go wrong.

Embrace mistakes as part of learning

The one thing you have to keep emphasizing with perfectionist kids is that it’s normal to make mistakes.

Make room for errors. Give them ample opportunities to build their “failure muscle” by playing games of chance. Tell them stories about famous “failures,” like Rowling, Edison etc., and remind them, using historic examples, how some mistakes can lead to fortunate serendipities.

Appreciate effort

There’s a shloka in Bhagavata Gita which, loosely translated, means, “You have a right to your work only and never to its fruit.” This segregation between work and outcome is the core wisdom that you must pass to your children. Celebrate hard work irrespective of the outcome, even when the results don’t bolster your sense of false parental ego.

Change vocabulary

Changing your vocabulary, body language, and facial expressions are crucial when it comes to combatting perfectionism. You must try to remove the positive and negative connotations from success and failure, and redefine them if needed.

When your child comes home with a scorecard that says 97, don’t look disappointed about the “missing” 3. If he, himself, is feeling unhappy about not getting the perfect score, remind him that the scorecard, in no way, reflects his real knowledge about the subject. As long as he is learning and getting better with time, the results are immaterial.

Address concerns from the beginning

It may seem easy to brush off children’s concerns as non-issues. But when a child is in the throes of anxiety for an impending exam, don’t undermine her worry. Empathize and talk about it instead.

Addressing concerns from the start and reminding kids that nothing catastrophic will happen if they don’t succeed helps to nip fear in the bud. With time, this alters their perspective and they learn to self-talk themselves out of their anxiety.

Love unconditionally

Your child is who he is. As easy as it seems to accept this, every day, parents disregard this universal truth in favor of culturally revered perfectionist ideals. Our job is to push back as hard as we can and keep loving our children in their uniqueness.

If your child is a happy “average” student or a non-athlete, don’t force him to be “above average” or an athlete. Encourage him, sure. But encourage him to do his best and be his best – not the societal standard of the best.

Balance excellence with failure

This is not to say that you should not motivate your children to excel. You must. However, striving for excellence should never be confused with becoming perfect. Grit, focus, determination, and hard work are all great qualities to be nurtured, but a healthy respect for failure and the ability to be a lifelong learner should be given equal weight.

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I had big plans to be a "good mom" this summer. There were going to be chore charts, reading goals, daily letter writing practice, and cursive classes. There would be no screen time until the beds were made, and planned activities for each day of the week.

Today was the first day of summer vacation and our scheduled beach day. But here's what we did instead: Lounged in our pj's until 11 am, baked the girl's pick, chocolate chip cookie brownies, started an art project we never finished, then moved to the pool.

It's so easy to be pressured by things we see on social. Ways to challenge our kids and enrich their summer. But let's be real—we're all tired. Tired of chores, tired of schedules and places to be, tired of pressure, and tired of unrealistic expectations.

So instead of a schedule, we're doing nothing this summer. Literally NOTHING.

No camps. No classes, and no curriculums.

Instead, we're going to see where each day takes us. I've dubbed this the "Summer of Me," so workouts and clean eating are a priority for me. And also giving our girls the freedom to pick what they want to do.

We may go to a local pool and check out the swimming programs. And we join the local YMCA. But whatever we do—it will be low key.

It will include family time, too much TV, a few trips, lots of sunshine, some new roller skates, water balloons, plenty of boredom, rest, relaxation, and reading. (Because mama likes to read!)

So if you haven't figured out what you're doing this summer, you're not alone. And guess what? It's OKAY! Your kids will be fine and so will you.

Originally posted on Kristen Hewitt's blog. Check out her post on 30 ways to have fun doing almost nothing this summer.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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When we consider all the skills our kids will need to succeed in the future, what comes to mind? Perhaps creativity, tech skills, or an excellent understanding of math might be at the top of many parents' lists. Social-emotional skills, like empathy, compassion, or the ability to understand another person's viewpoint may not be the ones you thought of right away, but deep down you know they matter.

We've all had those co-workers who didn't know how to listen to our ideas or friends who couldn't compromise with others. We know that in the work world and in our personal life, emotional skills are key to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you know that young children are inherently self-centered. It's not some faulty aspect of their character or a misstep of parenting skills. Young children simply do not have the brain maturity to consider another person's perspective or needs just yet—their brain physically is not ready to handle that kind of mental work.

However, child development research shows us that we can do a few things along the developmental path to help foster social-emotional skills in our kids. With a little help from us, our kids' brains can develop with meaningful connections that tune them into the feelings of others.

Here's how:

1. Treat others how you want your kids to treat others.

How we talk to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. We know from research that this goes for emotional skills as well. A recent study showed that when parents talk to their kids more about how other people might be feeling, the kids had better perspective-taking abilities—the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view.

This, of course, is the basis of many emotional skills, especially empathy. Just by talking about another person's feelings, kids begin to develop those crucial brain connections that help them develop empathy.

It's worth pointing out that very young children under ages 3-4 do not have the brain maturity to really understand another person's perspective. They lack a crucial skill that psychologists call Theory of Mind, meaning they can't understand the mind of another person.

However, our urgings and thoughtful phrasing to point out how another person might be feeling can only help them down this developmental path. Then, once their little brain matures, they will be in the habit of hearing and understanding the feelings of others.

2. Model positive emotional behavior in daily life.

It's probably not surprising to learn that how we react to our kids' feelings influences their emotional development. When your child gets upset, do you get angry or ruffled by their big emotions? We are all human, of course, so sometimes our kids' emotions are the exact triggers that fuel our big feelings, too. However, if we can remain the calm in the emotional storm for our kids, their development will benefit. Through modeling emotional regulation, over time our kids will learn how to self-regulate as well.

One study, in fact, showed that toddlers whose parents exhibited anger or over-reacted to tantrums were likely to have more tantrums and negative emotionality by the end of the study. However, the opposite dynamic can happen, too. Parents who model firm, but calm emotional regulation help their kids learn these skills as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.

Many times, we feel that one of our main jobs as a parent is to protect our children from the big, often overwhelming emotions of adults. For instance, we try not to break down crying or become red-faced with anger in front of our kids. It just feels too big for them to handle and perhaps not developmentally appropriate.

As they mature, however, older kids are able to handle a bit more discussion and expression of honest emotions. Have you noticed that kids usually pick up on the fact that you are upset even if you try to hide it? Kids are naturally curious and, many times, very sensitive to the emotional tenor at home. If they are developmentally ready, this can be a good time to have more discussions about emotions and how to handle them.

For example, my 9-year-old is playing a lot of baseball this summer and always wants me to pitch to him so he can practice batting. Now, I am not a very skilled player so my pitches often go off course or are too weak. He had gotten in the habit of correcting my pitching or (more likely) complaining about it every time we played.

After repeated experiences with this, I was not only annoyed but it also sort of hurt my feelings—so I finally told him how I felt. Guess what? His behavior at practice time changed dramatically! The mere fact of him realizing that his mom has feelings too really made him think about his words more carefully.

These types of interaction can become part of your "emotion coaching." It may sound silly but it can make a big impact for kids, especially as they grow older and are more able to really understand the emotional lesson. On some level, it's nice that our kids think we are superheroes, but it's also crucial that they understand that we are still human, with real feelings.

The magic of helping our kids develop empathy doesn't happen in well-planned lessons or elaborate activities. The real magic happens in the small, simple interactions and discussions we have with our kids each day.

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Sometimes it can feel like you never get a minute to even finish a thought—let alone a to-do list. When your day is packed with caretaking, your own needs get pushed back. So when you finally get to lie down at the end of the day, all those thoughts are waiting for you. While we haven't figured out the secret to keeping you from over-analyzing every.single.thing. (sorry, mama!), we do believe you must carve out time for you. Because that rest is just as important—and you've certainly earned it.



PS: We spoke to Jessica Alba and she gave us the lowdown on why she stopped breastfeeding, and Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until August 5th. Here's everything we want!

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