This Inherited Trait is Hard on Parent and Child – Here’s How We Can Help

Photo by Guillaume de Germain on Unsplash


There has been a noticeable cultural shift in recent decades that seems to equate dedication to detail and non-stop work as positive character traits.

Americans, especially, push themselves to work harder and longer than any other culture, often to the detriment of the family.

But one trait that is so widely regarded as positive can actually have some harmful consequences, especially when it starts in childhood.

“Perfectionism” has at its root the word “perfect,” something we all know is unattainable.

But that doesn’t stop many of us from driving ourselves crazy by being a perfectionist.

In our society, perfectionism sounds good in theory – being hard-working individuals with good values and principles. Nothing wrong with that, right?

But whether we strive to be the best at our careers or can’t stand to have any hint of disorganization in our homes, perfectionism can be exhausting and destructive.

It can be hard to live with someone with this drive to be “perfect,” and it can be especially hard to live with when you’re the one suffering from it.

While it may not seem contradictory, perfectionism can have some serious consequences.

And when children exhibit perfectionistic tendencies, the anxiety and intensity can be a hinderance to appropriate emotional development.

Of course, we want to teach our children to try their best, to be motivated and interested in doing well in school, and to stick to a routine and have some kind of structure.

While these are all good things, a “Type A” personality can develop in children as young as three – and get worse as they get older.

Perfectionism can be inherited, modeled in the child’s environment, or the double-whammy of both.

Modeling appropriate behaviors to our children is one of the most important ways they learn independence and values, but we perfectionistic parents can send the wrong message.

We may put pressure not only on ourselves, but on our young children, showing them that things are never “good enough” by never meeting our high standards or expectations.

And when children see this in us, they often think they must do the same to make us proud.  They see us disappointed when things are not exactly the way we plan, and they follow suit.

Mommy Underground has reported on the dangers of children taking on the negative connotations given to “quitting” or “failing” in our society.

But allowing children to understand that they can learn from their mistakes, accept their weaknesses, and move on to something that exemplifies their strengths can truly build character and self-esteem.

Research conducted by the American Psychological Association has found that perfectionism has rapidly increased since the 1980s, not just in the U.S., but in Great Britain and Europe, where a faster pace, technology, and emphasis on the importance of achievement in academics and careers have exploded.

These cultural changes are reflected in a huge increase in “socially prescribed” perfectionism, as well as self-inflicted pressure to be “perfect” in a society that equates the less-than-perfect as failure, weakness, or laziness.

So what can we do to help our kids to try their best without taking it too far to a destructive path that lowers self-worth and increases disappointment?

First, experts ask that parents recognize when perfectionistic tendencies in their children are becoming a problem.  If they are putting themselves down, often become frustrated, or are putting too much emphasis on a task or project to the detriment of sleep, activities, or family time, it may be worth addressing with your child’s pediatrician.

If they are never quite happy with their accomplishments, always focus on what didn’t go as planned instead of their achievements, or have trouble coming to terms with a disappointing outcome, this can lead to constantly feeling as if they don’t measure up – and they will just push themselves harder.

Support in the home is crucial – open conversations, encouragement, and discussing the root causes of what is leading to such pressure to be “perfect.”

Are they trying to meet their perceived notion of what we expect from them?  Are they competitive and want attention at school or in an activity?  Are they working toward a goal or skill that they believe would make us happy, but is really not in their “wheelhouse?”

This is often when we as parents must have an honest discussion with our children about how we cope with the same perfectionistic struggles.

This can include physical comfort, especially for younger children, or time away doing something spontaneous and fun in order to redirect from what is weighing heavily on their mind.

Share stories of your own struggles and mistakes, and give input on how to set healthy standards and goals.  Above all, let your kids know that doing their best really is good enough.

Perfectionistic tendencies that appear in childhood will not just go away, especially when one or both parents exhibit the same tendencies.

We can’t fight genetics, but we can help our children to accept and love themselves for who they are – just as they are.  We can emphasize values and character over grades, accolades and awards.

And by helping our children to accept that doing their best is all that matters, we too may be able to learn a little about ourselves and take our own advice.

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