Kids who are obsessed with good grades, high GPAs, perfect performances, etc. Although these kids seem like dreamy kids from a distance—great grades, hard working, and well behaved, they are actually a handful.
Ridden with anxiety about their next assignment, paper, quiz or test, they stay up half the night, every night, studying after a full day of school and extracurricular activities. They are perpetually exhausted, rarely relaxed and forever neurotic about their life.
As a child and adolescent psychotherapist, I see this all the time in my work. Here are seven ways parents can help curb their child’s tendencies toward perfectionism and help mitigate their anxiety.
Say, “Sometimes, Im afraid you feel like you are only as good as your next grade. That’s hard. That’s a lot of pressure. I get why you are so upset.”
“You are worried that you are not good enough. You need that A to tell you that you are good enough. I get it. I used to feel like that.”
“You need proof from the outside world that you are smart. I understand. You can’t take my word for it any more because you have to know it for yourself. I understand.”
2. Validate character over achievement.
Instead of waiting for a good grade to say, “good job,” try to acknowledge the hard work along the way. “You are studying so hard. I’m so proud of your effort. That means more to me than the grade you end up with.”
Also, complementing them for being thoughtful, kind and empathic should be more frequent than validating them for grades or achievements.
3. Say, “I love who you are.”
Instead of saying, “I love you.” That’s it.
4. Give them an example from their own lives.
Tell them a compelling story about when they were very young. For example, maybe they risked their neck to save a baby bird, or stood up to a bully in preschool. Perhaps, they protected their little sister from an aggressive dog, or helped their Nana so she would not fall. Remind them of who they are.
Anchor them with a story from their past which reflects their character.
5. Assure them that their GPA has a short shelf life.
Remind them that nobody remembers their GPA after the age of 20. GPA is rarely ever listed on a job application these days.
6. Talk about powerful, real-world examples.
Tell them stories of professional athletes and celebrities placing character before achievement.
7. Model fun for them!
Take a break from a work project and start a pillow fight with them or ask them to make slime with you while you watch Pitch Perfect Two. Laugh!
Contrary to popular opinion, achievement does not facilitate a child’s sense of self. The child’s experience of empathy is what helps a child develop a secure sense of self. After all, what a human being feels is the core of who they are.
When a parent understands a child’s feelings, they are validating who the child is.
With these tips, you can raise a secure child and parent with empathy.