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10 strategies for coping with perfectionism

By Cyd Rogers

Often, we as parents want our children to be the very best they can be. In order for our child to achieve success, we seem willing to provide whatever they need to fuel that success. Sometimes, without our meaning to do so, this can result in perfectionism in our child. Perfectionists can be found in any arena.

Cyd Rogers is the former Texas Affiliate Director and has been a Global Issues coach, Community Projects coach, Creative Writing coach, and is a certified international Future Problem Solving evaluator. She is a 41-year retired Texas educator. Note, the content in this article does not constitute professional advice.

To be or NOT to be a perfectionist?

Some are born with the idea of perfectionism at birth. From infancy the child is intense and demanding. For other children, the idea of perfectionism is a learned behavior. Often, perfectionism shows up when a child first experiences competition. This child responds to the competition with only one possible outcome that of “I MUST be the best!” For others, perfectionism is displayed in the way the child responds to compliments. They may respond with, “An A- is good for some kids, but it is unacceptable for me, I MUST do better!” For some children (and later as adults) struggling with perfectionism can be a life-long struggle.

Researchers believe that there are two types of perfectionism: healthy or normal perfectionism, and unhealthy or neurotic perfectionism. Healthy perfectionists want to do their best, enjoy challenges, and welcome opportunities to stretch thinking and learning as much as possible. They complete their work, practice, or study to please themselves and are delighted when their efforts are successful. They attempt to learn from their mistakes and seldom give in to disappointment. Some researchers believe that normal perfectionism is a healthy part of striving for excellence and can lead to positive competition and emotional well-being.

By contrast, neurotic or unhealthy perfectionists often set unrealistic goals. They work hard, not to please or to challenge themselves, but to avoid failure. Instead of delighting in challenges, they feel drained or depressed when they attempt new ones. Frequently, they have low self esteem and are sensitive to criticism from parents and teachers. They believe that their parents expect them to be perfect, even if we as parents have never expressed this expectation.

Mistakes or failures humiliate and embarrass neurotic perfectionists. Fear of making mistakes may cause anxiety and stress, which can lead to additional emotional and social challenges. On these occasions, professional counseling may be beneficial to assisting the perfectionist with coping with the phenomenon.

Strategies for coping with perfectionism

  1. Discuss perfectionism openly with your child, its symptoms, causes, and misconceptions. Don’t take it personally.
  2. Share stories that show mistakes can be used as learning tools. Study the lives of prominent people by reading biographies, autobiographies or simply watching TV programs like “Biography.”
  3. Help your child determine the areas of their lives they can control and those that are controlled by others or by chance. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  4. Incorporate goal setting into major facets of learning. Match the time commitment to the value of the assignment.
  5. Help students to self-evaluate, draw attention to their strengths and accomplishments, and reinforce progress they make toward their goals. Focus on improvement.
  6. Be a good role model. Demonstrate that learning is a process of trial and error. Model behavior, personal evaluation, goal setting, reasonable risk taking, self-acceptance of your own imperfections. Nobody’s perfect.
  7. Encourage and expect children to try new things. Enjoy the journey.
  8. Help your young person look for realistic standards. Know when to quit.
  9. If your child perceives that she has failed at something, wait until after the emotional tension is reduced before discussing the matter. This may help avoid defensive behaviors. Don’t expect rational or logical thinking during the immediate stress period following defeat. Teach that failure is a part of life.
  10. Teach admiration as a strategy for handling jealousy. Notice, admire, and communicate admiration to others. Acknowledge a family member or peer when he treats another in a positive manner. Always look for the positive.

Involvement in Future Problem Solving can be very instrumental in coping with perfectionism as the program encourages acceptance of all ideas, thinking with flexibility, creativity, and collaboration with others. In FPS there is no one right answer all the time. In addition, your child can earn a great

deal of respect for themselves as well as others through learning the problem-solving process and through their participation in the competitive programs. Each of our children can benefit greatly through this highly challenging and rigorous program. I encourage you to share what you can about perfectionism with your child and help them to reach positive outcomes. Together, we can help one another to help our children be the BEST they can be!

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April Michele

April Michele Bio

Executive Director

A seasoned educator, April Michele has served as the Executive Director since 2018 and been with Future Problem Solving more than a decade. Her background in advanced curriculum strategies and highly engaging learning techniques translates well in the development of materials, publications, training, and marketing for the organization and its global network. April’s expertise includes pedagogy and strategies for critical and creative thinking and providing quality educational services for students and adults worldwide.

Prior to joining Future Problem Solving, April taught elementary and middle grades, spending most of her classroom career in Gifted Education. She earned the National Board Certification (NBPTS) as a Middle Childhood/Generalist and later served as a National Board Assessor for the certification of others. She was trained and applied the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (MYP) in Humanities, which helped widen the educational scope and boundaries beyond the U.S. In addition, April facilitated the Theory and Development of Creativity course for state level certification of teachers. She has also collaborated on a variety of special projects through the Department of Education.

A graduate of the University of Central Florida with a bachelor’s in Elementary Education and the University of South Florida with a master’s in Gifted Education, April’s passion is providing a challenging curriculum for 21st century students so they are equipped with the problem solving and ethical leadership skills they need to thrive in the future. As a board member in her local Rotary Club, she facilitates problem solving in leadership at the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA). She is also a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute and earned her certificate in Nonprofit Management from the Edyth Bush Institute at Rollins College.