Overcoming Perfectionism in Kids & Teens

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

If you have noticed that your child or adolescent is unusually hard on themselves, sets unreachable expectations, avoids challenges, and is overly self-critical, they may be exhibiting signs of perfectionism.

One of the challenges of perfectionism is that it’s seen as a good thing—after all, we want our loved ones to be successful and to achieve great things. Turns out, it can hold our kids back, can cause them to be anxious, depressed, and be so terrified of failure that they avoid new adventures and opportunities. So how do we strike a balance?

Audience Questions

Dr. Elizabeth McIngvale explains the varying signs and symptoms of perfectionism, shares short- and long-term impacts of unaddressed perfectionism, and answers audience questions about how we can teach our loved ones—and maybe even ourselves—to foster a growth mindset.

  • What is perfectionism, and is it more than just being particular?
  • Is there a specific cause of perfectionism?
  • Is perfectionism a learned trait—as in, is it more common for parents who are perfectionists to have kids who are perfectionists?
  • Is perfectionism itself a mental health condition, or is it tied to other mental health conditions?
  • Do you think that perfectionism may be affiliated with a desire to have control and could be tied to a trauma response?
  • Are there ties between perfectionism and OCD? What are their similarities and what are their differences?
  • How do we address that tie between perfectionism and OCD—for example, if they don’t do something perfectly, something bad will happen to someone they love?
  • Can you explain the distinction between OCD and OCPD?
  • What are some of the signs and symptoms that my child may be exhibiting perfectionist tendencies? Do these change as they age?
  • Can you talk a bit about maladaptive perfectionism and how we can help our kids become more flexible?
  • Have you heard of kids being “selective underachievers” because they fixate on being perfect on specific things that they are good at? If so, can you provide guidance on how to help them branch out from being so siloed?
  • As a provider, how have you addressed perfectionism in your patients across different ages and stages of life?
  • As a teacher or caretaker outside the home, how can I talk to a parent/caregiver about the perfectionist behaviors I see their child exhibiting?
  • How can I talk to my kid about their perfectionist behaviors and how should I frame it depending on their age and severity of their tendencies?
  • With perfectionism and body image, how can we identify if there is an issue? And how can we help kids get past the perfection and be happy and relaxed about themselves?
  • What suggestions do you have for caregivers where the child may use perfectionism as a way of gaining additional attention? How can we address this with the kid themselves?
  • Do you have ideas for how parents can support children who get frustrated when they can’t do things perfectly, but also don’t want parents to help them?
  • How do you recommend managing perfectionism in younger kids (7-10) with emotional dysregulation and cognitive rigidity?
  • What are some creative ways that we can help young kids “unlearn” perfectionist behaviors?
  • When looking at mental health discussions on social media, there tends to be some misinformation as well, even if it was well-intentioned. How do you decipher what is correct information versus incorrect information?

Resources

You may also find this information useful:

About Dr. McIngvale

Elizabeth McIngvale, PhD, LCSW, is the director of the McLean OCD Institute Houston, founder of Peace of Mind, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to OCD, and manager of OCDChallenge.org, a self-help website for OCD. Dr. McIngvale was the first-ever national spokesperson for the IOCDF and now serves as a board member. She was diagnosed with OCD at age 12 and underwent both inpatient and outpatient therapy.

Dr. McIngvale engages in clinical work, research, and advocacy aimed at improving OCD treatment and access to care. Her life goal is to make a difference in the lives of those with OCD.

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