7 Pointers for Helping Your Daughter Navigate Her Perfectionism
Your daughter is terrified of making mistakes. She sees failure as the ultimate catastrophe. She avoids completing assignments and trying new things. She fears being embarrassed. She gives up easily. She spends extra time on homework and regularly rewrites her assignments. She doesn’t raise her hand in class because she’s scared of being wrong. She has a meltdown when things don’t go as planned.
She says things like: I got a 70 percent on my spelling, science, English, math or history test, which means I’ll never learn to spell or understand science, English, math or history. She clings to worst-case scenarios: What if I forget all the material and fail the final? What if my teacher hates my essay? What if everyone thinks I’m stupid and laughs at me?
According to child and adolescent psychotherapist Katie Hurley, LCSW, these are signs that your elementary school-aged daughter is a perfectionist. Hurley features these signs, along with wise advice on navigating perfectionism, in her latest book No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident and Compassionate Girls.
Some girls demand perfection from themselves and set sky-high standards. If they don’t meet these standards, they fall apart. Some girls think that others expect them to be perfect. They yearn to make their parents proud and to earn their approval.
Not surprisingly, this can lead to depression and anxiety. But anxiety isn’t just a consequence of perfectionism; it’s a cause, too. “Perfectionistic kids are worried kids”—even though they might not seem like it, Hurley writes. Instead, they might seem stubborn, irritable or lazy. Many girls tell Hurley they also feel hopeless.
There are other problems with perfectionism. Girls who yearn to be perfect miss out on playing and connecting to their peers and loved ones. They miss opportunities to learn and grow. They don’t seek help because they fear being seen as incompetent.
Thankfully, parents can do many things to help their daughters overcome or reduce their perfectionistic ways. Here’s a range of excellent tips and insights from Hurley’s excellent book.
Explore your own relationship with perfection. Hurley suggests asking yourself these questions: Am I overly critical of myself? How do I handle failure? Do I focus on my kids’ grades and performance?
Hurley also stresses that sometimes your daughter’s perfectionism is simply her personality. She sees many parents who are baffled about their daughters’ behaviors, because they don’t put pressure on their kids or themselves. My parents didn’t either, yet that didn’t stop me from locking myself in my room and refusing to eat dinner until I finished all my homework.