Raising a Perfect Child

My daughter, Nicole, is a perfectionist.

Sometimes this can be a good thing. She sets goals for herself and sticks to them absolutely. She has not eaten candy for the last four months, for example, because one day she decided it was not healthy.

Her goals are sometimes absurd and extreme such as this week when she informed us that she was going to practice not scratching when she has an itch so that if she ever gets Chickenpox she will be able to handle it. What 5-year-old does that?

But her desire to be “perfect” also has a downside. She doesn’t like to try new things unless she knows she will be good at them. She constantly needs reassurance that she is doing things “right” or “perfectly.” I’ve even heard her tell her 2-year-old sister that she isn’t drawing perfectly when the little one is scribbling like a maniac on the wall.

For a long time, I thought the answer was feeding her sense of self-esteem. I would tell her how great she was and give her the praise I know she so desperately wanted.

But my husband and I talked about it and decided I was actually fueling the perfectionism.  Instead of blanket praise, I should be guiding her to seeing the enjoyment or the process of what she’s doing rather than the goal of being the best.

 An article in Parenting magazine helped me realize this when it talked about not giving false praise. Not every picture is going to be beautiful. Not every attempt at jump rope is amazing. So why falsely tell a child it is?

Children who are constantly told they are the best often have trouble accepting that something could be difficult for them, so they give up.

Stephanie Rosales, a licensed educational psychologist in La Quinta, CA, says in the article: “Children who are praised for solving a problem tend to be more motivated in school than children who are told they’re smart. The latter, ironically, often become frustrated when something doesn’t come easily.”

So instead of saying “you’re smart” or “that’s wonderful” or “you did that perfectly,” I am know trying to say things like “I’m proud of how you stuck with that” or “It seems like you’re really enjoying yourself” or “That was an interesting solution to that problem.”

I am also asking more questions in the hopes my daughter will find her own sense of value and accomplishment outside of parental praise. For example, I ask her why she chose to use certain colors in her drawing or what was her favorite part of learning to ride a bike.

It’s difficult to avoid value words like “great” and “wonderful,” but I think I’m on the right track. It was awkward at the pool this week, though, when all the other moms were saying “Great job, honey!” and I was saying, “What’s the hardest part of the backstroke? I’m proud of you for working so hard.” I admit I may have snuck in some “good jobs” in there at some point.

What can I say? I’m not perfect.

Have you dealt with children who need praise and seek to be perfect? How do you help them relax and enjoy life?


  1. ColoradoGal

    Sounds like the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. I’ve read many of your blogs and you seem to be a perfectionist as well. Kids respond to situations are a lot like their parents do.

    • Erin Stewart

      I completely agree. I do have a serious need to feel like I am the best at things. It is something I work on and is why I am trying to break the cycle with my daughter.

  2. John Charity Spring

    Stewart is absolutely correct that overindulging and overpraising of children is creating huge problems for modern society. If things don’t change soon, society may reach the point of no return.

    By and large, today’s younger parents are failing in their duties. Instead of being parents and imposing rules and expecting discipline, they want to be friends with their children. As friends rather than parents, they shower the children with unearned praise and frivolous compliments,, without any criticism or correction at all.

    As a consequence of this complete failure by modern ‘parents, we are faced with an epidemic of selfish, spoiled children. This in turn is leading to an all time high in the rates of crime, substance abuse, and every form of immorality. We as a society can no longer pretend that everything is OK. It is time to demand that these irresponsible younger parents shape up and do their duty.

  3. Day80

    While I do agree with some of your comments, John, there is a one big problem. I am not one of those parents. I work 2 jobs that still allow me to stay home with my boys while my husband works his butt off at the office. My youngest son is respectful, sweet and hilarious. My oldest is being required to test for the gifted program because he is so far out of the school’s league. He is also kind, amazingly spiritual and loving and hilarious. So far, I have been able to raise them the best that we can. Yes, I want to be their friend and play video games with them and ride bikes with them, but they also know that we are mom and dad. And that comes before our friendship.

    I enjoy your comments most of the time, but you seem to make a sweeping generalization about the younger generation of parents. Well, I am in that younger generation, and its hard enough having my mother-in-law criticize my parenting when she doesn’t live here. I don’t need to read about how you feel like we are horrible as well when you have never met me. Probably because it wasn’t my kid being arrested or screaming at the store.

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