Chicago mom: My son’s perfectionism causes him frustration

My son is a perfectionist. 

I started to notice it when he entered preschool. Whenever he sat down to draw or color, it was very detailed. He was meticulous about the colors he chose and the lines he drew. I could see the determination in his eyes and the tightness in his mouth as he worked on a project. Everything had to be just as he imagined it. And if he made an error, I would just brace myself for a watershed of tears and a fit of frustration. I honestly didn’t know what to do.

I would tell him, “It’s okay, here’s an eraser!” or “Let’s use the other side of the paper to try again.” I felt completely helpless watching him have a meltdown. I poured over resources in print and online trying to figure out what causes perfectionism and how I can fix it. As his mom I want to fix things. I can fix this, right?

It had gotten to the point where my stomach would sink every time I got an email from his teacher regarding his meltdowns in class. I just wanted my son to be okay and not become so overwhelmed by thinking everything he does has to be perfect. Then those famous Erykah Badu lyrics looped into my head: he’s an artist and he’s sensitive about his work.

There’s always the blame game when something like this happens with your child. Was it something I did? I do have perfectionist tendencies. Had I somehow passed them on to him and given him unrealistic expectations of his performance?

I struggle with labeling his behavior because I don’t want it to be seen as a deficiency. I like to call it a growing edge that we are working through.

We’ve reached another school year and we continue to work through his perfectionism. He’s grown to a point where he can verbalize how what he’s feeling and process how to move forward. My heart smiles whenever he has those moments. I know that this is not something that will go away overnight so I do the only thing I feel I can do now: I let my son know that no matter what he is loved by me. And more importantly, I tell him to love himself. I want him to know that perfection is a myth and we are all a work in progress.

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