One Strategy to Reduce Perfectionism in Youth

Perfectionism plagues many students. While wanting to do a good job is indeed an important trait, sometimes it can go to the extreme. When this occurs, it takes students very long to complete their work. Neatness and precision are imperative to perfectionists. Whatever they are working on must look right—by their perception—before they can move on. This ultimately hinders their progress and results in frustration on the part of the youth and the teachers.

Here is an assignment to give students who suffer from perfectionism: Have the student explain the following aphorism, “You cannot be perfect and learn at the same time.”

A few examples may help. (1) Have him assume that he is playing the piano and makes a false note. Ask him if he will conclude that he has no musical talent. (2) Have him assume he is playing baseball and strikes out. Ask him if he will assume that he has no athletic skills. (3) Have him assume that he misspells a word on a spelling test. Ask him if he will assume he has no writing skills.

Let the child know that PERFECTIONISM is a burden no one is strong enough to carry without permanent damage to the body, mind, and spirit. Many young girls make themselves victims of anorexia nervosa because they think they have to be perfect in order to be accepted.

Aiming at EXCELLENCE is worthwhile, but it also has its price—if it is at the expense of some other experience or learning that would be just as valuable (i.e., the next activity you want the student to do). Make the point that a WISE person decides WHEN the QUALITY is excellent enough to move on.

When a person does not make such decisions, the person becomes a victim of an impulse. Only the person who responds to impulses in advantageous ways is in control—and thereby remains the victor.

ASK the student which she prefers to be—the victim or the victor.

Do you have any students or children who suffer from perfectionism? What steps have you taken to help them?