We all want our children to care about doing a good job in school, sports, and other important commitments. Our kids normally want to excel, too, and from an early age take pride in a job well done. But the difference between pride and perfectionism can be a difficult lesson to learn — especially for 7-year-olds.
By age 7, many of a child’s psychological conflicts are internal. Children of 5 and 6 may blame their parents for disappointing outcomes, but a 7-year-old knows very well what he wishes he could do. In his mind he sees himself as grown-up and competent. When he cannot live up to this internal image, whether his homework is too difficult to finish alone or he missed a soccer goal, he first grows frustrated and then furious — at himself. When he was younger, he might have abandoned the project or turned quickly to a parent for help or comfort. Now most of the fury usually stays inside him.
You might wish you could protect your child from that critical inner voice, but perseverance, frustration, and perfectionism are the inevitable bumps on his road to developing competence and high internal standards. Kids this age have the capacity to be demanding of themselves. The challenge is how to make that positive instead of punishing.
As your child goes through this process, she’s going to deal with phases of self-criticism until she develops two things: solid self-confidence and the ability to forgive herself. You can’t “fix” perfectionism, but you can provide a model of moderation that will help your child develop an encouraging inner voice of her own.
- Teach your child to do a good job, but not to expect to be error-free. Let her know that it’s OK to make mistakes.
- Model flexibility and forgiveness. Note your own mistakes with a laugh and a redo.
- Don’t panic when your child is feeling overwhelmed and helpless. Address her feelings, empathize with her, and calmly try to find a solution.