Do you have a child at home that is a perfectionist? Perhaps he/she simply keeps working – erasing, rearranging - until he/she feels satisfied with a product. Or, it’s a negative situation and he/she gets heavily frustrated and agitated while making those changes. Or, even worse, he/she gives up in the middle. Or, still worse, he/she never tries in the first place, “knowing” that whatever is created will not be up to par.
There are many great books on the topic of perfectionism to read with your children. We’ll be looking at several of these over the next few months but today we start with “The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes” by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein. (Even if you don’t have a perfectionist around, this is a great book for reminding all of us that failure is part of life and it’s not failure but what we do after we fail that is important).
The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes does a great job of representing many feelings perfectionist children possess. Beatrice, the main character, is a perfectionist, and as such, she feels a great deal of pressure to maintain perfection at all times. Her perfect record, and the pressure that derives from it, weigh heavily on her. You can feel the pressure build as Beatrice goes through her day. To compound the issue, she has an “almost mistake” which makes her scared that she might make an actual mistake, so she withdraws and refuses to participate in any activities.
What makes her situation worse, and is experienced by many perfectionists, are expectations from others. Everyone knows she is perfect, in fact, she is literally known as "the girl who doesn’t make mistakes.”
Looming over Beatrice is the evening’s talent show, which she has won three years running. Soon, she begins to doubt herself – an experience which afflicts many perfectionists.
As you might expect, her juggling act in the talent show does not go well. But, fortunately, Beatrice handles the situation with, if not grace, then, at least a little aplomb, and not a small amount of humor, providing a great example for children who suffer from the anxieties of perfectionism. The world does not end, and, all of the mounting pressure released, Beatrice has the best night’s sleep she’s ever had.
The next day, Beatrice faces the world from a new perspective and delights in the activities she shunned out of fear on the previous day.
Although it is unlikely this book will perform a miraculous turnaround, as is witnessed in the book, the conversations it might evoke between you and your perfectionist child could be helpful. It might prompt your child to verbalize any troublesome feelings similar to those of Beatrice. Or, you might use it as an opening to talk about any of your anxieties with making mistakes, and better yet, share times when you made mistakes and failed but got right back up again ready to face new challenges.
Then perhaps, over time with further discussion, modeling, and living life, your perfectionist child will feel freer to try out new activities and be able to take risks despite the possibility of failure.