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On perfectionism in children (and perhaps also in adults ...)

On perfectionism in children (and perhaps also in adults ...)

Striving for perfection is an innate aspiration in both adults and children. This is a lofty internal goal, which can be healthy and push us forward, but which in children may sometimes affect a child’s participation in developmental activities and have a significant impact on a child’s life experiences. In other word, perfectionism may lead to avoidance in some children, and in order for ideal development to occur, children need to participate in activities because activity = development.

When parents consult with me about their perfectionist child, I ask them to examine the issue from a functional perspective: Does the child’s desire for everything he does to be perfect promote his development or inhibit it?

When the child is writing, does her need for the script to be perfectly neat adversely affect the rhythm of writing? Is the eraser the child’s best friend – does she write one letter only to erase two more?

Does the child’s desire for his cutting or coloring to be perfectly accurate cause the child to refrain from cutting and coloring?

When a child finishes some artwork or an activity page, the product becomes a reality, a fait-accompli, and a perfectionist will tend to become very frustrated over inaccuracies (even over what is perceived as the wrong choice of colors) and express it in various ways: Some children will crumple the paper and throw it in the trash, some will erase the paper so hard that it tears, some will color the whole thing in black, and some will tear the whole thing to pieces.

Perfectionist children experience a lot of frustration because they focus on the outcome, the product. I have found that if we reinforce them and reward them for their journey, their efforts, their work, for the fact that they really tried, then the development just happens and the results come by themselves.

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Wishing all chidren happy and optimal development

Guy Y. Yekutieli, Occupational Therapist specializing in child development


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