How To Not Teach Perfectionism?

I often joke that I have OCD. When in reality I am probably offending people who really have OCD when I say that – because in truth, what I have is the inability to let go of an idea when it takes hold. Seriously. I am like a dog with a bone. Coupled with a Type-A personality, I can get pretty damn obsessed with getting things right, even when they don’t matter.

OK, maybe I do have OCD.


What happens when you see perfectionism sprouting in your son? In all things except the need to keep his desk clean, of course. I *really* wouldn’t mind some more perfectionism in that area.

But here is where the struggle comes in for us as parents.

He is supposed to do his homework, and do it well. He is supposed to read his assigned library books, and read them well. He is supposed to try try try, at all things, and try it well.

How to find the balance between encouraging him to do well, and cutting him a break? Sometimes he gets so wrapped up in making it *perfect* that I worry that we expect too much from him. Not just in his schoolwork, but in life.

And then I watch him do *just enough* to get by – and I think, OK, NOW, now is the time to encourage him, suggest places he could push himself harder…. and all I ever feel like is some crazy stage mom.

How do YOU do it?

I know we all struggle with balance in this issue. I would really like to find it.

This article has 14 comments

  1. Velma

    I struggle with this a lot, not for myself but for my daughter. She has always been more tightly wound up than *I* think is healthy, but in the meantime she’s getting A’s and participating in activities and forming good friendships… when she’s not melting down from all the pressure she feels internally. It’s a tough line to walk, and I don’t always do it successfully. Mostly, I watch carefully to make sure that her perfectionism isn’t turning inward to that scary point where she feels nothing she does is good enough.

  2. Aimee Greeblemonkey

    Both good points. Thanks, ladies.

  3. zeghsy

    my daughter and i have the kind of perfectionism that tells us if we don’t have time (or can’t) to do it “the right way” not to bother at all. sadly this means a lot of things go undone around our house. i’m trying to change that in myself, so as to teach her how as well. when you figure it out, let me know, okay?

  4. Ms. Maxwell

    Aimee = dog with a bone, Ms. Maxwell = Taurus. Same thing.

    I use lessons in critical thinking with MiniMe so she gets beyond just enough but doesn’t get unhinged over perfectionism. We have a conversation that starts with “if you do xxxxxx, then….” and she gets to her own answer. I’m a big fan of focusing time, energy and perfectionism where it will mean the most down the road (at least that’s what I told my calculus prof when he insisted that calculus would be an absolutely necessary life skill for me, the journalist).

  5. Jennifer

    I tend to be more on the laid back side. I need to pick up on the OCD sometimes.

  6. Bethany

    Well, hmmm. The balance came unexpectedly, through the having of 3 younger siblings. Really helped me get off the 8 yr old’s case! 🙂 Really though -it is hard to find that spot of “job well done!” in the midst of “nothng less than your best!” I have gone with high praise and gentle but firm reminders lately, and that has worked well. Finding their currency, whatever motivates them – that’s the key! You are fun & insightful…

  7. The Casual Perfectionist

    I think it’s important to try your hardest to make things perfect, but then realize when it’s time to step away. This is hard to learn and teach.

    For me, I work with time-frames. I only give myself x-amount of time for a project. After that is done, it’s done.

    As a Perfectionist (albeit a Casual one), I see absolutely nothing wrong with *wanting* things to be perfect. It’s also possible to accept the things that aren’t.

    Practice helps that process…practice makes perfect, after all… 😉

    Good luck!

  8. Momo Fali

    I think it’s important to give them a push when you know they’re not doing their best work…when you know they can do better, but just aren’t trying. Other than that, I think the balance is whatever comes naturally and feels right.

  9. Nat

    It’s interesting this. One of the things, I, as an adult, am struggling with is this concept that things have to be perfect. I realize that this desire to be perfect has stood in the way of many experiences…

    How do you not teach it? Hmmm… well, I think emphasis on learning really. It’s a fine line between do your best and be perfect. (Once in a while, it’s us just saying “enough for tonight” this is good enough. And really emphasizing the balance between school/work/home and play…

    Dunno. Seems lame when I write it like that.


    You don’t mention it in your post but I think what is important to focus on is how he deals with the perfectionism or lack there of on an emotional level. Does he get really upset if something is not perfect and or vice versa…you know.

  11. Gretchen

    It might just be who he is.

    Easy for me to say, as I don’t have the focus on one child.

    Step one: cut yourself some slack.

    Does how much does it bother him when it’s not perfect? Can he ‘walk away’ and be ok with it? Are there specific things that have to be perfect and certain things that don’t (school wise)? Is his need to have things perfect interfering with other things he needs to be doing?

    That said, I’m of the If It’s Not Hurting Anyone camp. If it is, that’s another story.

  12. Aimee Greeblemonkey

    All really great tips – thanks guys!

  13. Boston Mamas

    This is REALLY hard. I’m also a type A perfectionist type, but I’ve been really working on letting go of things. Therapist’s orders.

    And when I see perfectionist tendencies hindering Laurel’s desire for exploration, I get teary. Truly. She loves doing things well and she shies away from things she can’t get the hang of in, like, 1 lesson. I think part of it is also my own baggage — as in, we actually have the means to give her lessons if she wants to (whereas that was not an option for me and my 6 siblings) and she gets scared to do them due to fear of failure. (Or also, having to be away from us…)

    I find that the best I can do is keep encouraging her to explore and make mistakes, and also continue to encourage areas (like art) where she is completely uninhibited. Sometimes I also tell her about mistakes I make, so she knows that it’s OK to be imperfect.


  14. Katybeth

    Not everything is worth doing well or giving your best effort. A job worth sometimes just worth doing half ass. My son and I are learning to cook together, we don’t try very hard, our results are clearly lacking at times, but we have a lot of fun and have not poisoned anyone yet. I call that good enough.
    My son puts his best towards some subjects and not others. He plays the cello as a requirement at school, shows some talent but has no desire to be good…so he skips practicing. On the other hand being perfect in math and art excites him and he applies a lot of energy and produces amazing results. When he writes paper, I encourage him to write, he writes good enough, enjoys it but its far from perfect. And I love that about his writing so fortunately does his teacher.
    The goal is to love learning, take risks, and have the necessary energy to really push for perfection when it is important to us. Being perfect is overrated…after all it is a record that will always be broken…and just doing your best can mean being sloppy, and disorganized at times but having a lot of fun and growing in ways you never dreamed possible. Its hard to take risks when you strive for perfection or even the goal of doing your best. Just my very imperfect thoughts!

Comments are now closed.
Send this to a friend