The Problem of the Perfect Parent

By Nadine Briggs & Donna Shea

December 16, 2016   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

children and perfectionism

As parents, we may try to keep a clean house, practice good time management skills with getting everyone in the family where they need to be on time, and in general have our act together and run a tight ship. We may not succeed all the time, but striving to do our best is a good thing.

However, there are some parents among us who are experts at keeping things organized and on track. These parents serve healthy, hot meals in spotless kitchens, keep their children perfectly dressed, and arrive early to appointments. You may be thinking, “That sounds awesome! What’s the problem?”

The problem is that the kids are watching. The kids are observing the completely organized lifestyle with few, if any “mistakes.” Kids will try to emulate what parents model for them, and kids who view their parents as perfect and try to be perfect themselves are more likely to become anxious.

They may become easily frustrated and disappointed in their own imperfect performance. Has your child ever crumpled up a drawing or a homework assignment because he or she couldn’t get it just right in his or her mind?

The anxiety that the pursuit of perfection causes in some children, left unchecked, can be the cause of more serious anxiety disorders in children, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or selective mutism (refusal to speak).

As adults, we inherently know that perfection is vapor. Perfection is an unachievable goal.

If you are a parent who tends to do a great job of keeping on top of all the activities of daily life, try this lack-of-perfection-is-okay tip. The next time you are cooking with your child, let an egg fall on the floor in an “accidentally on purpose fashion.” Emphasize to your child that the mess of an egg on the floor is not a big deal. Clean the mess without fanfare and with an “Oops, look what happened, no big deal” attitude. You may even put your shirt on inside out or lose your keys, or spill a glass of milk.

See Also: 8 Ways to Be a Better Parent

great dad

Kids who struggle with perfectionism or anxiety need to find a way to feel in control so the worried thought doesn’t win.

In our book, I Feel Worried! Tip for Kids on Overcoming Anxiety, kids will learn how to identify the way worry feels in their bodies so they understand when to use calming strategies.

i feel worried book

One way to overcome anxiety is to catch it and cope with it before it gets too big to handle. Learning deep breathing, for example, when a child is in a calm state can help the child do that breathing when anxiety starts to creep in.

Here are a few coping thoughts excerpted from the book:

Coping Thoughts:

I can only try to do my best. No one is perfect.
I will image that I can handle things as well as someone I respect.
I can decide to stop the worrying and take action to solve my problem.

Laminate these coping thoughts as well as other encouragement cards located in the appendix of the book and put them on a key ring for kids to refer to when taking tests or for any activity that tends to cause worry.

See Also: 11 Ways Parents Can Help Children Do Better In School 

mother and daughter having fun

Whenever you as the parent make a real blunder, share it with your child and, with a laugh, explain how you recovered from it. Show your child that mistakes are not only not a huge problem but a normal part of life. If your child messes something up and feels upset, you can remind him or her of the times you made mistakes in big or small ways and lived to tell (and laugh) about it.


Nadine Briggs & Donna Shea

Nadine Briggs, Director of Simply Social Kids and Donna Shea, Founder of the Peter Pan Center for Social and Emotional Growth are authors of the How to Make and Keep Friends book and workbook series. Shea and Briggs specialize in coaching and creating simple tips and language for kids with social and emotional learning challenges.

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