Tuesday, March 02, 2010

PT: Perfectionism leads to miserable children

Dr. Jim Taylor writes on Pychology Today's blog that children suffer when they feel pressure to be perfect. On the heals of our "All In the Family" series where I talked about ways that parents provoke their children to anger, this article could be helpful for understanding some ways that parents can cause this kind of pressure in the lives of children. Is it possible that you are sending messages, either explicitly or implicitly, that your love is contingent on their success? Here are some ways that parents may to that.

  • Rewarding success and punishing failure.
When children succeed, their parents lavish them with love, attention, and gifts. But when they fail, their parents either withdraw their love and become cold and distant, or express strong anger and resentment toward their children. -Jim Taylor

  • Model perfectionism by be unduly frustrated at yourself when you fail or overly competitive. 
Children see how their parents hate themselves when they're not perfect, so they feel they must be perfect so their parents won't hate them. These parents unwittingly communicate to their children that anything less than perfection won't be tolerated in the family. -Jim Taylor

  • Projecting your flaws on your children. 
These parents project their flaws onto their children and try to fix those flaws by giving love when their children don't show the flaws and withdrawing love when they do. Unfortunately, instead of creating perfect children and absolving themselves of their own imperfections, they pass them on to their children and stay flawed themselves. -Jim Taylor
Taylor goes on to suggest that parents need not be perfect, rather they should strive for excellence. That's a confusing statement, but what he means is work hard to do good as much as possible but allow yourself to fail. I would add that you should let your children fail as well. Bs, Cs, Ds, and even Fs are OK. Big a benchwarmer on a second rate team isn't the worst thing. Not having the whole Bible memory packet complete isn't spiritual suicide. These things don't signal that children are failing at life. They should be a challenge to know where to improve or maybe a signal that the child has a different path in life.