Is your perfectionism setting your child up for failure?

In a world where the pursuit of perfection is the norm, are we unknowingly demanding too much from our kids? Here’s what the experts say about perfectionist parenting.

How did you do in the maths test? Did you make the A-team in basketball? Is your room clean?

Having high standards and wanting the best for our kids is one thing, but demanding too much from them can set them up for disappointment and failure, psychologist Dr Marny Lishman says.

“Many parents exhibiting perfectionist behaviours are often doing it with good intentions,” Dr Lishman explains.

“They’re wanting things to be done right and their kids to do well, to be the best, to succeed.

“They want their child to experience positive emotions and avoid negative ones like disappointment, rejection, sadness and judgement – feelings that we, as adults, try to avoid at all costs.”

However, Dr Lishman says, when we’re raising children, we’re also raising future adults.

“And they’re going to live in a world that is less than perfect, where they can’t control everything that happens to them,” she cautions.

“They may start to fear failure, fear judgement and rejection, and not want to try new things.”

How to tell if you’re a perfectionist parent

Identifying the traits of a perfectionist parent is the cornerstone of understanding the conundrum, psychologist Donna Stambulich says.

“The insatiable desire for flawlessness, a tendency to micromanage, and a fear of failure are all telltale signs,” Donna says.

“Striving for unattainable ideals, being rigid around rules and exhibiting impatience toward anything less than perfection are frequent markers.”

“You may have a fixed mindset about the way things need to be done and find it’s stress-provoking when your child isn’t performing to your expectations,” Dr Lishman adds.

“And you might feel ‘conditional love’ for your child, that’s connected to them doing everything well. “Your focus is on perfection and winning, rather than effort and hard work.”

The impact of perfectionist parenting on kids

Unbeknown to many, that pressure-cooker environment can sow seeds of failure, Donna says.

“While striving for excellence is commendable, the incessant push for perfection often stifles creativity and resilience in children; it breeds anxiety, erodes self-esteem, and impedes their ability to navigate setbacks,” she says.

“We often learn more life skills when life is a little imperfect because it gets us thinking about what we can do next to improve it, and kids need this capability for life,” Dr Lishman adds.

“It’s in childhood where we can build the psychological muscle to be able to be capable of dealing with adverse experiences later on.”

How to let go of perfectionist parenting

So, in answer to the million-dollar question: To be less of a perfectionist parent, you need to sit in the discomfort of less-than-perfect, reflect on your unrealistic expectations and have a growth mindset over a fixed mindset, Dr Lishman says.

“Celebrate effort rather than the outcome, don’t compare yourself with other people, get help for your anxiety and stress, and spend time just ‘being’ with your child and connecting,” she explains.

And try reframing failure as a stepping stone to growth, Donna adds.

“Allowing your kids to explore their passions without the shackles of unattainable standards is the cornerstone of healthy development,” Donna says.

In a nutshell? Instead of aiming for a perfect family, learn to embrace the messiness of parenthood and discover the joy that comes from allowing your child to explore, make mistakes, and learn from failures, our experts say.

So, forget the room, and go to the beach!

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Written by Liz McGrath.