Do Your Children Strive To Be Perfect? 4 Life Lessons to Reduce The Pressure

Far too many teens have told me, “My best isn’t good enough.”  Our young people are getting a message that they cannot measure up.  No matter how hard they try, it isn’t going to be enough.  I tell them that all the world can expect is their best effort.  “No,” they tell me, “The world wants more than I can do.” 

Messages about our capability and our development of a sense of self begin in early childhood and continue to bombard us throughout our lives.  Glorious is the day when we are at an age when we can accept our own strengths & weaknesses and no longer give merit to the opinions of others.  I think that time comes for many of us in middle age – that moment when we no longer care what other people think of us.  I wonder if today’s teens will ever get there.  The messages they are getting about unachievable expectations are so ingrained and defeating.  We need to do better for them and for children currently in their early childhood years.  Here’s a start:
  • Teach our children that they can fail and bounce back.  Mistakes are so costly these days.  The written test of rote facts is given too much weight.  Products – answers on paper -  matter when actually it should be all about the process of learning.  People, adults included, have very little patience with the learning process of others and want everything to be perfect from the start. We fail and so we learn. Then, we can walk a little better through our world – a little more knowing and wise, a little more cautious and questioning.  There is nothing wrong with learning from mistakes and failures; yet, we are living in a time that has no patience for it and our children get the message that anything less than perfection will elicit unending and irreparable guilt, blame and anger.  Make it okay for our children to be wrong.  Tell them, “Okay so you made a mistake.  Let’s figure out what we do now.  Where do we go from here?”  The world won’t end because they need to regroup and start again.
  • Teach our children that we don’t expect perfection from anyone.  We live in a cast blame society. When people feel threatened, they tend to lash out and people spend a lot of time feeling fearful & threatened in today’s world. Whatever happens, it is the company’s fault or the school’s fault or the teacher’s fault or anyone else’s fault but our own. It is true that institutions can make mistakes, too.  We have to teach our children to accept that no one, not one person or any place, is perfect.  Even more importantly, we aren’t expecting perfection.  When we cast blame and virtually say, “They should have been perfect,” children see that perfection is expected and mistakes are not acceptable.  Yes, the boss can be wrong.  The company can be ridiculous.  Our error is in not accepting that.  We cannot control them but we can use coping and critical thinking skills to determine our own reactions.  It is even empowering for children to see us say, “They were wrong but I probably could have done better, too.  I can only control me so I have to figure out what to do now or next time.”
  • Teach our children that the images they see of endless success on social media are not the whole picture.   Young people live a world of smiling social media images depicting perfect families, beautiful people and great achievements.  They don’t really understand that what they see isn’t the whole picture.  I remember being very young and hearing adults comment that people with great wealth weren’t really happy.  I’m not sure if that was true but it was their way of saying that everyone has problems.  We need to constantly reinforce that we are seeing only a second in a life on our screens – on the smartphone, tablet, computer and television.  Everyone has a whole life and, in that whole picture, everyone experiences success & failure, happiness & sadness, ease & struggle.  All of it, the good and bad is common experience and is acceptable.  It all will pass and return again. Our children need to know that what they see isn’t the whole story.
  • Teach our children that participation isn’t the same as perfection and it doesn’t need to be.  A parent recently told me that she enrolled her child is a multitude of activities to expose her to all sorts of experiences.  She noticed her daughter getting nervous and seeming overwhelmed.  When she asked her daughter why she seemed upset, her daughter said, “I can’t be good at all this.”  The mother was distraught.  She never said, “You must be great at it all” but that’s what her daughter heard.  The mother told me that she has changed how she approaches involvement in activities. She listens more and assumes less.  She has stop assuming that her daughter wants it all.  She has stopped assuming that her motives are interpreted correctly by her young children.  She talks with her children about the fun of new experiences and that trying is different than mastering.  They are learning to celebrate attempts rather than results.  Participation opens your world but it doesn’t have to be perfect.  It’s okay not to be on the elite team or the high level travel team or in the spotlight. 

Do you send unintentional messages of the expectation of perfection to your children?  Probably.  We have expectations.  As adults, we sometimes still feel pressured by the expectations of our elders.  Try to look for those times when your children could be getting that message and make sure they know that trying matters but perfection isn’t real and isn’t expected.  Celebrate the efforts to send the message that it is the attempt that broadens their world.

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Copyright 2016 © Cindy Terebush
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Comments

  1. I have a perfectionist preteen, and it is so hard! I don't let her on social media yet, so at least that perfection pressure still isn't there. One thing that's really helped her lately is seeing me mess up A LOT. I remind her that even I mess up, and no one has to be perfect.

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    1. Be sure to talk to her about social media anyway. It's very likely that she sees it from her peers.

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  2. It is so important to teach our children these values. As a mom, I just assumed my children knew some of these things...they did not. They loved and respected me so much that they didn't want to fail at anything so as not to disappoint me. It broke my heart. I hope they now know that it is okay to fail at something they try and I will love them just as much.

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    1. I think we forget to send the message that we will still value them, love and support them even when they make mistakes. I'm glad you recognized the issue!

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  3. You know, we teach kids that they don't have to be perfect but I wish the media and the advertising agencies would get on the same damn page for once! I hate taking my kids out shopping because of all the subliminal messages that they are taking in. I have to debrief them in the car so they know what's real, what's truth and what really matters in the real world!!

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  4. Thank you for such great information! I think more often than not we assume our kids know that perfection is not something we expect from them, but with so many ways for their skills to be measured - whether their grades at school or getting first place in a sport the concept is there. I especially liked the idea that we need to help our kids understand that if they fail, they can always bounce back. Life is full of hard things no matter our age, gender, or socio-economic status - but understanding we can always try again is something we all need to remember.

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    1. I'm glad you liked the article! We do assume a lot of things about how our children think and perceive our intentions. We do need to talk to them and demonstrate that it is okay to be less than perfect.

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  5. Great tips and perfect timing! I have one daughter who does not like to do anything unless it is absolutely to her standards. If it isn't she has a hard time coping.

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  6. I'm sure I did. My daughter is such a perfectionist. She is starting to let go, though. I'm so glad, as she's not a mom yet and I know she will be able to stop from pushing this on her kids.

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    1. Let her see you making mistakes and bouncing back. That helps to make it "a part of life."

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  7. You are so right about the social media pressure. I feel it even as an adult. We need to teach our kids what is important and what's 'real' and what's not.

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    1. Yes - they do have a hard time distinguishing real and phony.

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  8. Some great advice here. Some people think that their children should be perfect when it fact nobody is!

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    1. I think people want others to think they are perfect. I wish people would stop worrying about what others think so much!

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  9. You are so right with this advice. No child is perfect, as some parents think!

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  10. These are awesome ideas! My kids are still young, but I can definitely see how my kids want to be the best at what they are doing. I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing, but when it starts to cause stress in their little lives, that I don't like.

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    1. Kids today are so stressed. It's important that we are aware of the messages we send.

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  11. My kids are a bit young, so the last thing they think about is being perfect. I've always taught them to just be themselves, and thats all that matters! - Jeanine

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    1. Keep telling them that! They will need to hear it.

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  12. A few years ago I worked in an elementary private school, and the amount of pressure the children got from their parents is so unbelieveable. The parents creating a life competation among them trying to show whose kid is the best one. Sometime parents need to chill out and let the children enjoy their fail and their success in their perfection and imperfection.

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    1. It's happening everywhere - schools, sports, etc. It's so sad....

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  13. My teenage daughter tends to be a perfectionist, but at the same time she is her own person and is willing to let certain things go.

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