9 Ways to Battle Back to School Perfectionism

Ahhhh summer, that time of pure freedom - freedom to rest, freedom to explore, freedom to try new (and old) things. 

Time for swimming, tie dying, rock climbing, bowling, digging into some clay, ice skating, and gardening. Yes, one might move a little faster, go a little higher, create something a little more interesting, but the pressure was off, the scores and judgements withheld, the competition set aside.  Noticing. Not comparing. Pure joy in just doing and just being.

But by September, it’s back to school.  Stakes are raised, friends and classmates appear (with new clothes, bags and electronics),  extra-curricular teams kick back up, assessments follow, teasing/bullying heightens, projects are assigned, groups are formed, and the perfectionism that comes along with all of it sets in too.

Can sound like:

“I don’t want to play _____ anymore.”

“I hate this stupid project.”

“It’s all your fault for making me….”

“ <silence>” in a group discussion

“I’ll only go if I can wear…”


How can we best support tweens when they fall into the traps of perfectionism?

  1. Teach to recognize what perfectionism feels like in the body (warm face? - tense forehead? - sweaty hands?- sluggish body?)
  2. Make observations about what perfectionism looks and sounds like (saying critical things about self, blaming others, taking over, I’ll only do it if…, delayed decision making, procrastination, etc.)
  3. Celebrate PROCESS. 
  4. Inspire PROGRESS.
  5. Model healthy responses to your own mistakes.  “I will try again next time.” “I will make a correction.”  “I will apologize."
  6. Model a willingness to try (even if it’s not your thing). “Sure, I’ll draw with you.” 
  7. Emphasize that done is better than perfect.  “Thanks for sweeping the kitchen.” “I’m glad you got your project turned in on time.” 
  8. Practice the mild-case scenario. Help your child to notice “snowballing” or catastrophic thinking. 
  9. Separate self (and self-worth!) from performance or output. Let your tween know she is beyond compare.

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