Parenting is one of LeadLifeNow’s Life Elements, which is never off the table. It just changes shape as the years roll by. We parent in waking and sleeping hours; the dreams and positive schemes of countless parents have filled my ears. Just as parenting changes shape throughout the years, so do the perfectionistic characteristics of our Kids.
Perfection or Perfectionism pairs well with high-achievement expectations of the Bay Area and of busy families. It characterizes innovative personalities. In its adaptive form, the daily quest to accomplish a task or project “perfectly” shows consistent positivity, adaptability, and motivation. There’s a buzz to get answers, recognition, and reward. Perfection can come out of maladaptive difficulties in childhood to become adaptive in adulthood Notice the “wow” contributions in science, technologies, mathematics, and creative/music arts?
Studies this decade show girls score higher in perfectionism than boys. It appears in girls as body obsession long before adolescence. Whereas, perfectionism shows in boys’ as an emphasis on their abilities. This includes making a simple drawing, playing team soccer, putting a project together in the classroom, providing detailed information in a simple conversation. Young adolescents score much higher for perfectionist characteristics than older adolescents, with the exception of girls and LGBTQ boys, whose perfectionism can lead to Anorexia and Bulimia (These conditions remain separately and extensively studied) All maladaptive conditions of Perfection have depression, anxiety, or both at the core or subsequently activated because low self-esteem grows along with Kids sense of failure.
Positive parenting, schooling, socializing, community supporting, medical assessing/monitoring, and training (interactive therapies) can reframe that sense of failure to one of success.
For years, I’ve seen Perfection’s challenges. It’s entered my practice a lot, through clients of all ages. I’ve also watched in store lines, as baggers struggle to reposition the items too many times; or the sales associate, who just had to pick the tiny spot of dog hair off my jacket. Perfection can follow Kids without that “reward” for them and us. It’s a blow when that positive transition into adulthood doesn’t come. This is called maladaptive Perfection: “A personal standard, attitude, or belief that rejects anything less and at all costs.” Kids often inherit this maladaptive form through genomes; or acquire it by regular modeling from parents, primary caretakers or even teachers they’re with for hours daily. When we watch our Kids with maladaptive Perfection, we all hurt! Their emotional baggage is too heavy for them to carry. Baggage contents: Inflated desire to please, guilt and shame for failure, worry for others’ happiness, responsibility to make things okay for others, fear of rejection if they don’t “say or do it right”.
Observe your Kid-in-Perfection: Colored pencils lined up? Play kitchen pans and plates perfectly placed? No mismatched socks worn? An easy walkway through your Teens room, no scattered piles to trip over? An organized closet? These Kids feel comfortable, safe, relaxed when there is order in their lives. Give ‘em rules, an action plan, a departure time. They feel especially secure that a departure time exists, even if they’re late. They may feel responsible to get the family moving. What looks like being a nurturing, helpful Kid is actually a Kid with high anxiety and stress about being late. Hence comes their huge upset on late arrival at school. They may even refuse to leave the car.
Is this your Kid?
Here are more characteristics, to help you lock together more pieces of understanding. Pair them with your observations of mood highs (anxiety), lows (depression), and/or agitation:
- Physically/mentally active
- Highly observant of others/self; can add high body focus
- All senses turned on, enabling them to take in details and facts
- Outstanding memory for details and facts.
- Accurate drawing values accuracy realism
- Overacting & irritability about physical/emotional disorder in living spaces
- Collects, sorts, and make order of things.
Do you have a straight-line, finite view of flat-out ending your Kid’s Perfection? That all-or- nothing mindset will trip you. It’ll activate and reactivate frustration, anger, and helplessness as you parent your Kid-in-Perfection. Consider redefining to a circular model of whole parenting, which is what the LeadLifeNow circular model supports. The flexibility of its circular model makes room for revising plans and strategies, as needed, without the stress of a finish line in view. LeadLifeNow circular model leaves room for change, which is what individualized parenting requires; and what real life with real Kids require. After all, no two Kids are exactly alike.
So, no two Kids-In-Perfection are alike. With this circularity in mind, let’s look at some parenting tools for our Kids-In-Perfection. Called Pairfection, it’s both an analogy and strategy for “pairing” tools with perfection’s challenges and strengths. “Pair” connotes togetherness— Kids-In-Perfection often feel alone. Pairfection tools are “paired” with the individual components that make up the whole of the perfection situation. Parents of Kids-In-Perfection learn that by putting the goals of straight-line accomplishment on a circular model, their own fix- it-right-now desperation and related guilt diminishes. They reward the smaller pieces of the process, which lowers their overall stress: “We finally see we’re getting somewhere!” Yes, success is in the process; as the destination keeps changing.
So, get ready for more new learning, as you parent your Kid-in-Perfection. Prepare to meet their repetitive perfection situations with repetitive responses, not reactions. “Pair” the tools with big or small traumas. Remind yourself that perfection often changes shape with positive parenting, training (interactive therapies), and supportive schools and health providers. These Pairfection tools have been helpful for many Parents so far. Maybe some of these pairings will help you, too.
Everyday life tips for our lovable Kids In Perfection:
- Give step-by-step directions. They prefer to listen and observe. They’ll only perform the task when they feel they can do it well; so they may delay the start. They prefer privacy to learn, so others can’t see their mistakes. Rushing causes anxiety.
- Praise them for what they value, not for what you value. Notice the details of their work. Speak in specifics rather than generalities. Include where they have put extra effort.
- Use age-appropriate markers of accomplishment; star charts, job lists.
- Emphasize boundary-setting and family rules consistently. It reinforces their sense of security. Misbehavior is a way to test if these boundaries and rules exist.
Pairfection Parenting is handy for the range of perfection situations. Your parenting proficiency builds the more you use it, like an athlete in training. There’s a daily learning proficiency that builds over time. Note the parallels to general Whole Parenting. The more you use it, the more you’ll remember how to use it in the more emotionally- and energy-challenged times. Again, like the athlete-in-training. Think “circular”; keep the process moving.
Check out these steps of Pairfection Parenting, for a challenging situation. Numbers 2) through 4) can be in any order:
- Calm and comfort your Kid’s emotional/physical perfection reactions. Use a soothing tone, a comforting touch. Silence is also golden; use it. When Kids brains are stimulated, they often can’t process conversation until calm; kinda like us. In time, add “How are you feeling” “What’s in your heart right now?” You’ll have information on what’s going on inside.
- Pursue the outside (date) ; pair with the inside (feelings). Ask what happened. This is called the Doing Story. Reflect back parts of the story, so your Kid knows you got it. Pair the Doing Story with the identified emotions. This means a lot to Kids. You got the story and you got them.
- Pair these emotions with their thoughts; “What’s the talk inside your head?” “What are you saying to yourself that I can’t hear?” “Whose voice is it?” Kids with perfection have a hard time moving on from one event to another. Some of this is due to the buzz of these thoughts or conversations.
- Pair their perfectionism as a coping mechanism for underlying causes mentioned earlier: depression, anxiety, stress, low self-esteem. They more initial discomfortable in a new environment or with transitions. Ease them slowly, so their discomfort can reach manageability, and onto some comfort. If there’s high anxiety, tears and panic that can’t be soothed right then, change environment. Find a nearby quiet corner or seat. Use tactile and verbal soothing, even silence, to stop the emotional (physiological) flooding. It’ll take several minutes for the fire to subside.
Right now, do you hear my applause? This is a lot of information to absorb, I know. You’ve hung in. Now, take a deep breath just because. Remind yourselves of adaptive Perfection’s benefits. We’re all cheering for the day of maladaptive-to-adaptive Perfection realized. It’s when you see those juicy lemons of childhood Perfection pairing with positive experiences. Kids-In-Perfection:
- keep a special notebook in class for things they don’t understand, rather than getting more and more behind by worrying.
- get into college and onto a nice GPA.
- memorize every syllable of their theater role script.
- project-manage a job to success.
- recall a past family time with such detail to re-enliven the happiness.
Through it all, you love, cared and paired.
by Paula-Jo Husack MA LMFT CGP