I’ve been thinking a lot about how harmful perfectionism is and if it just might be something we are teaching our kids when we praise them. We’ve all been told to tell our kids what a great job they’re doing, but might we actually be sending a different message? Might all that praise come along with the implication that all they do must be worthy of praise?
I gave birth to a perfectionist. When my daughter was little she wasted time worked so hard to make her homework look perfect; every letter, every number erased and redone until perfection was reached. Erase too many times, the paper gives way and the assignment must be redone from the beginning.
A simple 2nd grade assignment that should have taken 5 minutes might take her an hour. I talked and cajoled but got nowhere in my attempts to have her believe that good enough really was good enough. That’s when she told me her teacher’s favorite motto: Good Enough, Isn’t.
So here I was, at home, offering her 50¢ a page if she wrote the whole assignment without using her eraser. But at the same time, she was getting an opposite message from her teacher. I’d had the feeling we were not exactly on the same page after speaking to her at the Parent Teacher conference. She was eager to tell me how perfect Hillary was, how neat her papers were, how polite, how well behave . . .
Argh! Let the kid make a little noise, be a little messy! Compliment her on the quality of the content, not the neatness of the presentation! While I worried for my Hillary, who was able to conform to a perfectionist teacher, I also worried for all the kids who could not or would not conform.
My girl, now a big grown up, was in a tiny fender bender this weekend. No one hurt, totally her fault, ridiculously expensive, but nothing more than a mistake. She was so upset, so upset with herself. Just as when she was little, I tried to help her see how insignificant it all was. She was seeing it as a reflection of her being a screw up (which by the way she is not!). I just saw a mistake at an intersection made by one of the kindest, friendliest people I’ve ever met.
I lobby that we all start now, to teach children to not be so hard on themselves!!
Smile. Be happy.
A problem seems small
When you cut it so slack,
You can choose to forgive,
And how you react.