Highly sensitive children (HSCs) are often perfectionists. During school parent’s evenings over the years I have heard the words ‘perfectionism’ and ‘fear of failure’ about all three of my sons. So it is something that I am busy trying to help my children with.Which is quite hard when you are a perfectionist yourself…..
Highly sensitive people notice the details. They also don’t like things going wrong and find criticism difficult to take. (Remember also that HSPs are often their own worse critic.) HSPs are also conscientious. The combination of attributes is probably why perfectionism is a common trait amongst the HSP population – striving for perfection reduces the chances of a nasty surprise, or dealing with critique.
However, wanting things to be perfect can be incredibly restraining. And frustrating. We raise the bar so high for ourselves that achieving our goal is nearly impossible, which in turn breeds a fear of failing. If we can’t achieve perfection it feels like we have failed. We just aren’t satisfied with ‘good enough’. It’s a hard lesson I have learnt.
I have seen this in practice in reason weeks with my eldest son. He puts so much pressure on himself to achieve a goal, which ends up with him feeling stressed, emotional and like he’ll never complete the task. The reality is that he will easily finish what he set out to do and the pressure is completely self-induced. Everyone around him believes and knows he will reach his goal – everyone except him. He is sometimes crippled by his fear of failing, his fear of not ticking the perfect box.
A sense of failure is a common emotional response seen in highly sensitive children. Don’t underestimate just how debilitating the fear can be.
The fear of failing can stop a child from even beginning.
The fear of failure can mean that activities take far longer to complete than they should.
The fear of failure can end in tears and meltdowns.
The fear of failure can result in procrastination and avoidance of certain situations.
The fear of failure can make a child feel useless and incapable.
The fear of failure can lead to extreme stress, anxiety and physical symptoms.
But there are things you can do as a parent to help your child with their fear of failure.
- Show your child how to enjoy an activity without doing it perfectly. Colour outside the lines. Scribble out a wrong word. Tear out a page. Knock it down and start again.
- Try a Wreck This Journal!
- Help turn mistakes around so that your child sees it as a learning opportunity.
- Share with your child that everyone makes mistakes. EVERYONE. Give examples of your own mistakes. Assure your child that no one is perfect. No one.
- Highlight your own failures to your child. Explain how you bounced back from it, tried again and then succeeded.
- Get your child’s teacher involved and do a class activity based on ‘The Biggest Mistake I Ever Made’ and how classmates and the teacher overcame their mistake. (This is a great idea my dad shared with me when talking to him about this issue.)
- Adjust goals to make them achievable – HSCs often go for the big or difficult goals!
- Help your child identify little steps they can take to reach their goal. Breaking it into small, manageable chunks can help them banish their fears of taking the next step.
- Praise how your child tackles an activity or a project and not necessarily the result. Praise the achievements, no matter how small and the fact that your child is tackling a goal.
- Examine why a particular task evokes a fear of failure – is there a negative association with something from the past? A nasty fall on a bike after removing the stabilisers may cause a reluctance to try again on two wheels.
- Make sure your child is not constantly comparing themselves and their achievements to their peers.
- Think about whether you are modelling perfectionism….. lead by example and accept ‘good enough’. You can strive for excellence without chasing perfect.
Over to You: Is your child displaying signs of perfectionism? What are your golden tips for helping a child with a fear of failure? Have you managed to banish perfectionism from your home?