My littlest minion sat next to me at the teacher’s table. It was Parent/Teacher Conference night and the teacher had said that fourth grade was old enough to be involved in the conferences. Earlier in the week she’d had my sweet girl fill out an evaluation of herself to be shared with mom and the teacher that night. The first question asked if there was anything she wasn’t trying hard enough on. She listed two things—division and cursive—and her teacher frowned. “Why do you think you aren’t doing your best in these areas?” She replied because she couldn’t do them yet.
I knew that these are things she’s in the process of learning, not things she should have mastered yet. But before I could speak up, her teacher did. She smiled and explained exactly that. She asked, “Are you working on these things? And are you trying your best?” A little head nodded. “Then that’s all we ask.”
The teacher explained she used to be a perfectionist. She understands when kids think that struggling reveals something is wrong when in fact it reveals that they are doing the hard work of learning. I loved that she shared that.
It got me thinking: am I doing my best to give my kids tools to battle perfectionism? Perfection is an impossibly high standard and some kids are naturally inclined to set that bar of excellence too high.
Childhood is a time to learn and learning includes not getting it right all the time. Childhood should provide kids time to make mistakes with loving parents there to deal in safety. There are consequences to choices—both good and bad. If we give kids permission to make a mistake, deal with the consequences, and teach them what to do instead, we are giving them an enormous gift.
My little girl didn’t need to get these two areas perfect from the start. They required practice and time. I reiterated what the teacher had said that doing her best and trying is all we ask—not perfection.
We can help raise perfectionism-free kids by modeling grace.
As parents, we want our kids to excel and do well. But we also need to let them know our love is unconditional when they don’t get it right. And we need to give them tools to navigate failure and disappointment so we don’t raise children with unrealistically high expectations for themselves. I believe there are a few questions we can ask:
Are we modeling good habits and ways to deal with problems? When I mess up, do I berate myself? Do I blow up in anger or deal with disappointment in a healthy way? Am I afraid to fail so much that I don’t try new things? Our children are watching—always. When we model good habits of dealing with mistakes and ways to set realistic expectations, we give them a gift. When we teach them that fear of failure shouldn’t stop us from trying, we teach them to be brave.
Were you a perfectionist at that age? Sometimes our kids are just like us. If you struggled with perfectionist standards, it might be easy to see that in them. Sharing a time you struggled with something similar might seem to fall on deaf ears but you will have planted a seed of empathy. And keeping an eye out for the habits that we struggle with can help cue us into when our kids need to be told a mistake is okay.
Are we creating an atmosphere of grace—a place where mistakes and consequences are dealt with but don’t damage the child or the relationship? Okay, time to fess up—I often find myself looking at a report card and smiling at the As and Bs but the first thing I ask about is the other grades. Do you do that too? I need to focus on the positives before going straight to the mess-ups. I need to remember to stay calm when a mistake is made–even a costly one–and try to help my child learn and figure out where to go from here.
One of my favorite movies is Disney’s Meet the Robinsons. It’s a lesser-known gem but it’s messages of the beauty of adoption and that failure is one step closer to success makes me smile. When the main character fails at something, he starts apologizing for the mess and the problem and the family smiles and cheers for his failure. One character says, “From failure you learn. From success, not so much.”
Teaching our kids that failure is part of life and not the end of the world is a valuable tool. Demonstrating grace in how we handle their mistakes can help them be brave and less stressed out. And that’s a parenting win.
What’s one time you saw some of your own faults in your child and were able to help them learn what you wished you had? I’d love to hear in the comments.