Tips to support a perfectionist teenager
The other day I put out an Instagram poll in my Story to ask all teenagers to tell me what was currently stressing them out the most. Besides the common answers like school and parents, I thought one answer was particularly useful to take up as a blog post and video idea.
A dear former student of mine mentioned that it was having high expectations for herself that was increasing her stress level. Perfectionism affects many young people, but mostly girls.
In this post I’ll show you signs to spot perfectionism early on, and strategies you can use at school or at home to help perfectionists.
Some people think of perfectionism as a good thing because perfectionists are motivated, conscientious, dedicated, and hard workers. While this is true, perfectionists also have higher levels of stress, depression, burnout, low self-esteem, and anxiety. It’s important to remember that even non-perfectionists can be motivated and conscientious without the negative effects.
How do you recognize that a child suffers from perfectionism?
Teens who are perfectionists may exhibit many (but not all) of these traits:
- overly cautious and unwilling to take risks
- fear of failing or doing something wrong
- focus on mistakes instead of successes
- having to ask a lot of questions when given an assignment
- repeating tasks over and over again to get them just right
- setting unrealistic goals and getting angry when they are not achieved
- being inflexible or believing that there is only one right way to do a task
- critical of others and judgmental when others fail or find a different way to succeed
- self-critical, insecure and easily embarrassed
- high sensitivity and resistance to criticism
- difficulty completing tasks because work is never “good enough”
- avoiding difficult tasks if they fear they might fail
- believing they have failed when someone else does a task better
What are the consequences of perfectionism?
Perfectionist teenagers who try to meet unrealistic expectations can become depressed when they realize that nothing in their life can ever be perfect.
Five strategies that can help perfectionists:
Listen carefully to and observe your teenager.
Do they often say things like “I can’t do this” and wait until the last possible hour to start a project or important task? Teach them to recognize and challenge impossibly high standards and to recognize when they overestimate the risk of failure.
What we use in coaching is the question “What’s the worst thing that will happen if…?” Most negative scenarios listed here will show your child that it’s not the end of the world if they don’t get an A on a test. You can apply this approach to help your teen in other areas of their lives as well.
Encourage your child to become a list maker.
By that I mean checklists and to-do lists. Children with perfectionist tendencies tend to reflect on past mistakes. They freeze in fear of the steps required for their next great endeavor. Creating a checklist can be a helpful tool that breaks down a complicated process into manageable steps. It is beneficial for children to check off completed items and move on without further thought.
Become a failure role model.
Create opportunities for your child to witness that you are not perfect at something important. Role modeling is especially important if your child thinks you’re putting some pressure on them to perform.
An example for that would be writing a number backwards or upside down, followed by, ‘Oops, today isn’t Backwards day, is it!” Try to add some humor into your relationship, your teen might think you’re awkward and embarrassing but in the end it will help your connection. Depending on where a child feels the pressure, you can be a role model there.
Help your teen find a mentor.
This can be an older family member, such as a trusted cousin or neighbor who has known them for years. Mentors offer perspective, support, and serve as living proof that you don’t have to be perfect to be successful.
Working with your teen’s inner critic.
The inner critic is the internal voice that all of us have. Those of us who have a strong inner critic, will most of the time not believe that they succeeded because of their own strength, but rather because they were lucky or got help from others.
Teach your child to use self-compassion instead of self-criticism. If your teen is freaking out over a mistake, ask them how they would treat a friend and what they would say to their friend if they went through a similar situation. Most likely they’ll come up with things like, “No big deal, just do it tomorrow.” or “Just be more careful next time.”
Use famous failures if you can think of one. History is full of examples of people who failed multiple times before finally succeeding. If your teen loves a specific athlete, singer or other famous person, read their biography so you can show them how their hero overcame failure.
As in my last blog post on self-confident children, I want to conclude by saying that it’s important for parents and teachers to praise efforts instead of results.
Avoid praising your teenager for the results they have achieved, but rather for the hard work they put in. If a teenager is only praised when they do something well and not when they don’t, they will believe that they are only really worth something when they have achieved a result or when they get the approval of others.
For all you German speakers out there, check out my video on how to help perfectionist teenagers (also with English, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles):
If you are looking for more communication strategies on
- How to talk to teenagers to strengthen the relationship between you and your child
- How to help them overcome anxieties and critical voices
- How to improve their mental health
…I would like to recommend to you the DIY Coaching Kit for Moms of Teens.
It’s a one-hour-webinar with communication techniques used in coaching, that you can start trying out at home. No prior knowledge needed!
It’s free to access and you’ll have it in your inbox in just 1 minute!
Hope this post is useful to you and you can start making a difference in your teen’s life already today!
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