Is Perfectionism Holding Back Your Child?

by Kelly on May 12, 2009 · 13 comments

in Parenting. Relationships

perfectionist-demonThis week I am crazy busy, so I wanted to share an article on parenting that I read recently. It really resonated with me because it’s on the perils of perfectionism – a subject I know well.

Next week I’ll write my own take on this subject. But, in the mean time please stick around and tell me what you think of Michael Grose’s article.


Do you have a child who is held back by the curse of perfectionism?

Many firstborns are afflicted by the curse of perfectionism.

The burden of being in the parental spotlight means that many firstborns will only star or achieve in areas where they are certain of success. So they tend to narrow their options by sticking to the safest path. They tend to be less innovative and adventurous than later born children.

Perfectionists can also be hard to live with. They make demanding partners and anxious children. They can be critical of those around them just as they are highly critical of themselves.

Their attention to detail can be infuriating and their inflexibility can be enraging. Much worse, being a slave to perfectionism means kids become observers rather than participants in many aspects of life.

9 Ways to Spot a Perfectionist

You can pick a perfectionist at 1,000 metres away because they share common attributes. Here are nine attributes that perfectionists share:

Perfectionists plan everything. They won’t go on a family picnic unless the route is known beforehand, the estimated time of arrival is decided upon and the weather is checked days out. Perfectionists like to be in control so they don’t leave things to chance.

Perfectionists are neurotic about order. Tidy desks, shoes neatly arranged in wardrobes and neatly stacked food shelves are de rigueur for perfectionists.

Perfectionists are critical of themselves and others. If a perfectionist paints a room he will focus on the inevitable thin spot rather than celebrate a job very well done. Subsequently they don’t enjoy success.

Perfectionists hate to leave jobs half done. They will stay at work until a task is completed.

Perfectionists procrastinate. Many perfectionists put off starting projects because they doubt if they can do them perfectly. Procrastination is not just a great stalling tactic, it is a protective strategy. They wait until conditions are perfect to start a job. The trouble is the time is never perfect so they never start.

Perfectionists don’t like to delegate. No one but no one can do a job as well as they can so they tend to take on far too much and they don’t trust anyone to do a task as well as they can.

Perfectionists apologise a lot. They will always find an excuse such as there is not enough time or money to do the job that they would like. Perfectionists always believe that they can do better or try harder.

Perfectionists don’t expect success. They are generally pessimistic and look for reasons not to do things rather than reasons to try things. Their expectations become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Perfectionists are governed by absolutes. They see the world as black and white and have strong opinions about what people should and should not do.

The best way to help perfectionists loosen up, lighten up and take risks is to develop what the great Austrian psychologist Rudolph Dreikurs dubbed ‘the courage to be imperfect’.

Dreikurs maintained that we have to accept our faults and don’t put pressure on ourselves to be superhuman or be better than others.

When we focus all our efforts on making a contribution rather than being better or superior then we are not held back by doing the perfect job.

Kids develop the courage to take risks and fail when they are less focused on themselves and more concerned about others. Perfectionists need to lower the bar they set for themselves and be realistic about what they can achieve. When they focus on others and develop more realistic expectations not only do they end up achieving more but they experience more fulfillment and contentment.

Michael Grose is Australia’s NO. 1 parenting expert. He is the director of Parenting Ideas, the author of seven books for parents and a popular presenter who speaks to audiences in Australia, Singapore and the USA. Get your FREE Chores and Responsibilities for Kids Guide when you visit Parenting Ideas.

Get a hold of Michael’s sensational new book Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It at You’ll be astounded when you learn about your birth order personality and how the position in your family impacts on your life!

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Flickr Photo by Trixi

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Vered - MomGrind 05.12.09 at 1:08 pm

Both my kids have perfectionist tendencies, as do I. I’m doing my best to teach – and model – a more relaxed approach to life. But I suspect none of us is ever going to be easy-going.

Vered – MomGrind’s last blog post..Happy Mother’s Day To The Moms Who Blog

2 Evelyn Lim 05.12.09 at 1:57 pm

I doubt that my kids are perfectionists. Their mother is not! She can be pretty unstructured in the way she does things. Neither is she totally at the other extreme either,

Their mother tells them that while it is important that they do their best, they will be loved no matter what their results are. She is quietly proud of their little achievements though.

Evelyn Lim’s last blog post..What Do You See if You Are Standing Next to God?

3 Positively Present 05.13.09 at 12:18 am

I was definitely a perfectionist as a child. Everything had to be organized and I had to follow strict routines. I definitely feel like I missed out on a true childhood because of this because I didn’t want to be free and relaxed like a lot of the other other children. I’m pretty sure my birth order (oldest) and my situation at home had a lot to do with this. It’s no fun to be a perfectionist kid!

Positively Present’s last blog post..break the chains of adversity in 7 (sort of) easy steps

4 Dot 05.13.09 at 2:18 am

As a first-born, I can definitely relate to several of those traits. Not having kids, I don’t have to worry about making them nuts with my controlling, not delegating and procrastinating. :-)

Dot’s last blog post..April Showers and May Flowers

5 Jay 05.13.09 at 5:29 am

I think that article is flawed. 😉

Seriously? I do think that article is flawed. Some of those pointers describe me to a tee, others are opposite to me. I am a perfectionist only when it comes to myself, which is a tad weird, I suppose, but I did have the type of childhood described, though I was a third, not a first.

My firstborn is a perfectionist only in that he’s a bit picky and pedantic. It’s his nature to be so. He is adventurous when it suits him, was never forced into a niche as a child, but chose to find them for himself, and will indeed only try things he feels reasonably sure of succeeding in. And he’s the opposite of me, in that he’s critical of others, but not himself.

My second-born was also never forced into a niche, and avoided them like the plague. He’s adventurous, and sloppy about routine and tidyness and stuff like that, but he fits those ‘perfectionist’ pointers much better than me or Son No. 1. He will apologise a lot, never expect success, but on the other hand, won’t plan, and is the least black and white person I know.

Neither will delegate, preferring to take tasks on alone.

I rest my case. I think the guy who wrote that article is a very black and white person, but children – and in fact most people – are not black and white, but many shades of grey.

6 Sami - Life, Laughs & Lemmings 05.13.09 at 7:52 am

All I can say is WOW! I am a first born and a recovering perfectionist. I read the list and had to laugh to myself. Yep, a lot of that is me. The irony is, I love freedom. It’s really important to me. Perfectionism is the exact opposite of freedom.

I was pleasantly surprised though because I can see I’ve made quite a bit of progress. I am now not at the “total perfectionist” end of perfectionism where I once was and I’m becoming more balanced. The other interesting thing I noticed is that I actually don’t want to be at the total other “not a perfectionist at all” end of the spectrum. I would prefer to be in the middle somewhere. Perfectionism does have some pluses (eg doing a good job, being reliable, less chaos) but not at the expense of freedom.

Interesting article. Thanks Kel!

Sami – Life, Laughs & Lemmings’s last blog post..The Daisy List: #47. Pay The Next Car’s Toll

7 Urban Panther 05.13.09 at 12:03 pm

Not sure it is related to birth order, nor necessarily to parenting. My parents were the ‘what happened to the last mark?’ type when you brought home a 9/10 test. Yet, I am not a perfectionist. Although, I was afraid to try new things in case I didn’t do them right the first time. My brothers, raised the same way as me, aren’t perfectionists either. My first born, forget it. So not a perfectionist! My second born gets a check against the entire list above. Third born? Well, he just walks to the beat of his own drum in some alternate universe. Ya, I think a lot of it is personality driven than birth order.

Urban Panther’s last blog post..Horror in the dental chair

8 Lisa (mommymystic) 05.13.09 at 5:11 pm

I am a firstborn, and I see some of what he describes in both myself and my own firstborn, but for both of us I am not sure ‘perfectionism’ is quite the right word. I think as a firstborn in my family I became more of the ‘achiever’ and oriented my whole ego-structure and identification around that for a long time i.e. the ‘good girl’, good student, award-winner etc. It took me a long time as an adult to really own what makes me happy apart form seeking acknowledgment from others. And I do see that despite my efforts to the contrary, my firstborn has picked up some of this orientation also, so I am working on shifting the messages I send her.

Lisa (mommymystic)’s last blog post..Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief – Book Review

9 Laurie | Express Yourself to Success 05.14.09 at 12:33 am

My favourite line in your post, “…focus all our efforts on making a contribution rather than being better or superior …”

How much happier would we all be if we just did that? Contribute to make things better for everyone and not focus so narrowly on the perfection of oneself.

Thanks for the post and introducing me to Michael Grose.

10 Marelisa 05.15.09 at 5:50 am

Hi Kelly: I’m the oldest and perfectionism is something I’ve always struggled with. The good news is that you can watch yourself reacting in perfectionist ways and you can chose to change your behavior. I’ve definitely become less of a perfectionist :-)

Marelisa’s last blog post..The World Needs Alchemists

11 Kelly 05.18.09 at 3:57 pm

So sorry I am not up with the commenting on this post. Life has me busy and distracted at the moment, so the site is not really getting my attention. Also realise I have been a non-existent blog reader and commentor on your sites too, so please forgive me. I hope to be back up with the blogasphere in the next couple of weeks.

Re, this article. I agree with a lot of the traits he describes for perfectionists, but like a few of you, I question the importance of birth order. I tend to think it’s more to do with personality. Not that birth order plays no part in how we react to life in general – I think it does. I am a typical first child and Musicman is a fairly typical youngest child. But I don’t think only first borns are the perfectionists. I would put it down to a combination of innate personality mixed with life circumstance and parenting styles.

Looking forward to discussing this more when I get my own article down on perfectionism.


12 Celes | EmbraceLiving.Net 05.25.09 at 5:41 pm

Hi Kelly! Like many of those who have commented, I’m a perfectionist as well. So much so that I wrote a 3-part series on perfectionism on my blog before ( It’s covers the downsides of perfectionism and how to overcome it. Perfectionism isn’t a bad thing – it’s when the perfectionist borders into neurotic perfectionism when it becomes an issue.

I actually surfed upon your site from Evelyn’s site. I’ve subscribed to your RSS feed and will be checking back regularly! 😀

Celes | EmbraceLiving.Net’s last blog post..EmbraceLiving.Net in Media!

13 Alexandra 12.29.14 at 2:27 am

This life is what you make it. No matter what, you’re going to mess up sometimes, it’s a universal truth. But the good part is you get to decide how you’re going to mess it up.

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