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Behavior Makeover: Overperfectionism

Six Strategies to Reduce Overperfectionism
Use the following as a guide to help your kid bounce back from setbacks:
  1. Give permission to make errors. We need to give our kids permission to fail and help them recognize that mistakes can be positive learning experiences. So make mistakes be okay in your household. Say again and again, "It's okay to make a mistake."

  2. Show acceptance. Whenever your kid makes a mistake, show your support with both your words and your nonverbal reactions. The quickest way our kids will learn to erase the idea that mistakes are fatal is feeling our accepting response to their errors.

  3. Don't yell, shame, criticize, judge, blame, or ridicule. Nobody (especially children!) likes to make mistakes, and they hate to be reminded that they made them.

  4. Don't call it a mistake! A common behavior of kids who bounce back is that they are not thrown by errors. In fact, they often call mistakes by other names (glitch, bug, a temporary) so they won't discourage themselves in the middle of their learning. Help your kid come up with a word to say inside his head whenever he encounters a mistake. Any word will do; just make sure to help him practice saying it over and over so he'll remember to use it when he really makes a mistake.

  5. Model how to cope. Turn your own mistakes into success lessons for your child by modeling how you cope with your error. First, say to your child what your mistake was. Then say what you learned. Here's the formula: "My mistake was . . . " "I learned . . . from my mistake." Example: "I really blew that recipe for the cheesecake. Next time I'll read the whole recipe first, so I'll remember to add the eggs." "I had to redo a whole report at work today because I forgot to save the document on my hard drive. Next time, I'll be sure to save as I go along."

  6. Teach an affirmation. Help your kid learn a statement to say to himself to bounce back from defeat – for example, "It doesn't have to be perfect." "It's okay to make a mistake." "I can turn it around." "Everybody makes mistakes." Once your child selects one, help him practice saying the same affirmation out loud several times for a few days. The more he hears it, the greater is the chance he'll remember it and use it.
Behavior Makeover Plan
How did you handle defeat and failure when you were growing up? Do you see any of those same behaviors in your child? Kids love to hear that their parents made mistakes when they were growing up. Have you shared your pain of failure with your child? Consider doing so. Did you learn any coping strategies that helped you bounce back? What were they? Where did you learn them? Have you modeled any of those strategies to your child? If not, think about how you might teach them to your child. Write down your reflections and plan.

Now it's time to take action to begin making over your kid's behavior. Use your Makeover Journal to write down your thoughts and develop your plan.

  1. Think about your kid's behavior. Has your kid always shown overperfectionist behaviors? If not, when did you first notice them? Why do you think they emerged just then? What factors might have triggered the trait? Write your thoughts.

  2. Reflect on which issues exacerbate your kid's perfectionism tendencies. Be specific. For instance, don't say "school" if not every school subject concerns her; maybe it's only math or spelling tests that bother her. Make a list of areas that tend to trigger your kid's fear of mistakes. Now reread the list to see if there is a pattern. You may discover that your child is concerned about being the best only in front of a group or always getting a perfect score on every class test. Is there anything you can do to alleviate her concerns by helping her learn to perform just for the fun of performing or help her realize that even the most intelligent people always learn from their inevitable slips and mistakes? Write your thoughts.

  3. Review the strategies. Choose two to try with your kid. Write down your plans.

  4. How do you typically react to your kid's errors? These reactions are especially deadly: yelling, shaming, criticizing, judging, ridiculing, or saying "I told you so." Now reflect on how your kid responds to your reaction. What might you do to change your reaction so it is more affirming and noncritical? Write what you'll say the next time your kid makes an error or fears failure. Here are three possibilities: Focus on what she's trying to achieve: "How did you want this to turn out?" Affirm your belief in her: "I know you can do it. Hang in there." Support trying again: "Just because it isn't easy doesn't mean you're not good at it."


From No More Misbehavin' by Michele Borba, Ed.D. Copyright © 2003 by Michele Borba. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Buy the book at www.amazon.com.

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