When nothing less than the best is acceptable, anxiety and frustration run rampant. To help your perfectionist loosen up:
- Let her know it's okay to make mistakes. That's why pencils have erasers. Share your own stumbles from school days. Many kids are so afraid to be wrong, they become frustrated when a project doesn't come easily. Reassure her that when you are really stumped, leaving the answer blank and asking the teacher for help the next morning is okay.
- Set an example. Make sure you are not sending a mixed message. If you slide into crisis mode when you overcook dinner or the computer eats one of your files, you can't expect your child to calmly handle problems. Pay attention to how you act and react to daily hassles. Do you work hard but always feel swamped, or do you pat yourself on the back for the things you have accomplished? Making simple shifts in the way you perceive your world will help your child see his in a different light. When he sees you rally in the face of adversity, he'll know that he can take a deep breath and begin again.
- Praise effort, not grades. Some perfectionists are stymied because they believe they must grow up to be mini-yous. Set a standard that is good enough — but not unrealistic. Unless your child knows you appreciate and love her for who she is and what she accomplishes, she may forever feel one-down by comparison.
- Round out his world. Kids today don't have enough time just to play, found a study published by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Seventy-five percent of a child's day, researchers say, is tightly programmed with carefully outlined activities that are parent-structured and parent-supervised. Counter the perfectionist child's belief that every minute must be spent doing something productive by giving him time to do absolutely nothing.
- Empathize with her feelings. If she's upset about a low mark, don't minimize or belittle her feelings. Hear her out, and say, "You feel badly about how you did." That's called "mirroring." While you'll feel like a parrot at first, you'll soon notice that this psychological tool can jumpstart many stalled conversations. Your child will be more likely to continue to share her thoughts than if you said, "Don't be ridiculous. One bad grade isn't going to kill you."
- Hold the criticism. Phrase any corrections generally: "Why don't you look this sentence over?" Look over homework if your child asks you to — perhaps even asking questions such as, "How did you find the answer to that?" — but leave specific guidance to the teacher.