Six-year-old Timothy finished coloring his picture. He put down the red crayon and inspected his work. In one spot, he had gone outside the line. He picked up the page, crumbled it into a ball and threw it in the trash. It wasn’t perfect.
Children can be perfectionists for many reasons. Some are driven by external desires; needing to be valued and accepted by the people they care about. These children perform to meet other people’s expectations. They fear letting down a teacher or disappointing a parent. Internally motivated perfectionists feel the need to do their best. They may have a belief system that says, “If I don’t always succeed, I’m not good enough or smart enough.”
Cynthia Tobias, author of Bringing Out the Best in Your Child, says perfectionism has positives and negatives.
“The upside is your child is constantly striving for excellence and pushing herself to achieve something that may or may not be comfortable,” she says. “It’s good for a child to learn that kind of discipline — a little bit.
“The downside is that feeling of never being able to measure up. Maybe she’s not attempting a lot of things because if she tried, it wouldn’t get done right so she’d rather not do it at all. Children like that miss out on an awful lot.”
Tobias warns that parents can inadvertently encourage perfectionism without realizing it. “In our younger kids, we hold them back by overprotecting them because they might get hurt or wouldn’t do well. We try to insulate them in a world where they can be successful in everything they try. Kids need to fail when they are young and the price tags are much smaller.”
The reality of perfection is that no one can achieve it. Scripture tells us “All have sinned and fall short” (Romans 3:23). At the same time, the Lord calls us to “Be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45). Aspiring to have a perfect and holy heart defines perfection in a whole new way for us and for our children. The fact is — we need God’s help.