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Identifying Perfectionism In Children And Teens

In today’s digital age, children and teenagers are increasingly exposed to societal pressures and unrealistic standards perpetuated by social media. Yet identifying perfectionism in children and teens might not be easy to spot. The research is clear, showing that 25-30% of teens suffer from “maladaptive perfectionism,” i.e, striving for unrealistic perfection to the point of causing them pain.

Sadly, these numbers have increased by 33% over the last three decades largely because of:

  • Comparison promoted by social media

  • More controlling parenting styles

  • Tough competition to get into top colleges

Through my work with clients, I have witnessed these detrimental effects of perfectionism on the mindset and self-esteem of individuals both young and old. Let’s look at the seven signs that your child or teenager may be experiencing perfectionism so you can have some loving and supportive dialogue with them with these seven conversation starters.

These questions are intended for parents and caregivers to help alleviate their child’s anxiety and need for perfection by helping them to gain an understanding of it early in life.

Drawing on our research and expert insights in our new book, “I Am Perfectly Flawsome:How Imperfection Makes Us Better,” co-authored with Tom Collins, my aim is to empower parents to support their children and teens in embracing imperfection and fostering resilience in the face of societal pressures, empowering them to be flawsome.

Signs of perfectionism in children and teens

Fear of failure
Kids who exhibit perfectionistic tendencies fear making mistakes or falling short of their own expectations. This may cause them to avoid trying new things or taking risks to avoid failure.

Overly critical of themselves
Perfectionistic children tend to be excessively self- critical and hold themselves to unrealistically high standards. They may berate themselves for even minor imperfections or mistakes.

Rigid thinking
Perfectionistic individuals often have rigid or all-or-nothing thinking patterns. They may see things in terms of “perfect” or “failure,” with little room for middle ground or compromise.

Paradoxically, perfectionists may procrastinate on tasks or projects out of fear that they won’t be able to complete them perfectly. This can lead to increased stress and anxiety as deadlines approach and feeling their work is never “good enough.”

Avoidance of challenges
Rather than embracing challenges and learning from setbacks, perfectionistic children may avoid situations where they might not excel immediately because they have a heightened sensitivity to flaws or mistakes. This can limit their growth and development over time.

Seeking external validation
Perfectionists often rely heavily on external validation and approval to feel worthy or successful. They may constantly seek praise and affirmation from others, to validate their sense of self-worth by tying it to their achievements.

Physical symptoms of anxiety
In severe cases, perfectionism can manifest in physical symptoms of anxiety, such as headaches, stomachaches, or difficulty sleeping. These symptoms may indicate that the child’s perfectionism is significantly impacting their physical and mental well-being.

7 conversation starters for parents

To help your kids to have a healthy understanding of striving for excellence versus what can morph into toxic perfectionism, here are 7 conversation starters to help you talk with your kids or children in your care. These are intended to help your child feel seen, heard, and understood, so be mindful to listen fully at what they are telling you while also tuning into their body language and facial expressions – which often speak louder than words.

  1. “I’ve noticed that you seem really hard on yourself when things don’t go perfectly. Can you tell me more about how you’re feeling?”

  2. “I want you to know that it’s okay to make mistakes. Nobody is perfect, and we all learn from our failures. How do you feel about the idea of making mistakes?”

  3. “Do you ever feel like you have to be perfect at everything you do? What do you think would happen if you weren’t perfect?”

  4. “I’ve noticed that you’ve been avoiding trying new things lately. Is there something specific that’s holding you back?”

  5. “How do you feel about asking for help when you need it? It’s important to know that it’s okay to seek support from others. We all need assistance sometimes.”

  6. “Do you think that getting everything perfect all the time is realistic? What would happen if we embraced imperfection instead?”

  7. “I want you to know that I love you just the way you are, flaws and all. How can I support you in feeling more confident and accepting of yourself?”

Perfectionism can have significant negative impacts on the mental and emotional well- being of children and teenagers. But don’t be fooled, it’s something that can impact us at any age!

The research survey we conducted for I Am Perfectly Flaw some, included age data that grouped participants into four age ranges (18-29, 30-44, 45-59, and 60+). In response to the question of whether they had ever regarded themselves as a perfectionist, 100% of those in the two younger groups answered yes. Only 53% of the 45- 59 group said yes, while 68% of the 60+ group did so.

Our results appear to support the literature’s findings that perfectionism is a widespread and growing problem, especially for younger people in a day and age of rampant self- comparison online with other people’s “perfect” lives.

As busy professional parents and caregivers, it is essential to be vigilant for signs of perfectionism and to initiate open and supportive conversations with your children. By addressing perfectionistic tendencies early on and fostering a culture of self-acceptance and resilience, you can help your children navigate the pressures of social media and thrive in an imperfect world.

Empower them to love their flawsome self, wholly and completely.

For additional details, questions or to schedule a complimentary discussion on how you can stop perfectionism to maximize potential and transform to lead a more balanced, happier and impactful life, please email me at

Live, Work and Lead with greater Freedom, Power and Peace of Mind.


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