Could Perfectionism Be Fueling Your Child’s Anxiety?

Photo of a lap top with lots of crumpled up paper around it with a sticky note that says "over it". Photo could represent the perfectionism a child feels and therefore needing an online solution focused brief therapist in Illinois to help her cope with anxiety.

Like most young children when given a task to do, my daughter was eager to please. Whether I asked her to wipe down her sneakers, feed the dogs or finish her multiplication homework, her question was almost always the same – “Is this OK?” or “Did I do it right?”

And more times than I can count, I responded with, “Yes, perfect!” Now there’s nothing wrong with complimenting your child when they do something well. In fact, I highly recommend it. But it was the frequency with which I said “perfect” that caught my attention. Did I really want my daughter to think I was looking for perfectionism in everything she did? No!

What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is a refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. Perhaps you’ve noticed your child holding themselves to an impossibly high standard? Or the anxiety and fear that ensues when they perceive their efforts as never good enough. To them, good enough is not acceptable. Things must be done flawlessly.

Perfectionism can cause children to become easily frustrated, anxious or angry when they fail to live up to their own unreasonable expectations. You may hear your child scolding themself with comments like: “I can’t do anything right”, “I’m stupid”, or “I’ll never learn”.

Both kids and teens alike are often driven to be overachievers in academics, sports or outside activities. And honestly, it can sometimes be difficult to detect perfectionism in kids because it’s often masked as a strong drive for ambition and success.

Symptoms of Perfectionism in Kids and Teens

Wanting to do things in life with excellence is a healthy desire. But an irrational need to do things perfectly can set your child up for problems.

Perfectionism can lead to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-harm. Eventually, it can also lead them to stop trying. “What’s the use?” is a common reply. Even mild cases of perfectionism can interfere with your child’s quality of life affecting multiple areas.

Here are some signs your child may be experiencing perfectionism:

  • Consistently believes that they will fail at everything they try
  • Regularly procrastinates starting a task because they fear they’ll be unable to complete it perfectly
  • Struggles to relax and openly share their thoughts and feelings
  • Obsesses about rules, lists, and schoolwork, or alternately, becomes extremely apathetic

How to Help Your Anxious Child with Perfectionism

The good news is that there are things you can do to help your child who struggles with perfectionism. It really boils down to teaching your child one very important life skill – the ability to tolerate mistakes, imperfection, and failure. And while it may seem contradictory, mastering this life skill is what leads to a happy and well-adjusted life.

Here are 3 suggestions for helping your child to combat perfectionism:

Ban the word “perfect” from your vocabulary.

Once I recognized that I used the word “perfect” far too often with my young daughter, I made it my mission to stop using it. It took some practice. When I did slip up, I would correct myself saying, “Whoops, mommy said that word again. We are not perfect in this family, and nothing needs to be done perfectly either. Your best is good enough. Way to go!”

Make failing a game.

Play a silly game where you take turns failing at something that’s difficult to do. Maybe it’s juggling, doing a cartwheel, or memorizing Spanish vocabulary. The idea is to help your child learn a better way of responding to failures. Have each person practice smiling and saying things like:

  • “Never mind”
  • “No worries”
  • “Who cares?”
  • “Crap happens”
  • “You win some, you lose some”
  • “Could have been worse”

By playing such a game together, you model a variety of good responses to your child.

Emphasize effort over perfection.

So often we look at failure as the end of the story. It’s not. Failing is a great lesson if we allow it to teach us. A great question you can ask your child after a setback is, “Did you try your best?” Reinforce that no one is perfect (not even you 😊) and that you don’t have that expectation of them either. Their best effort, even if they fail, makes them a winner in your book!

Begin Online Therapy for Kids with Anxiety in Illinois

If your child has been struggling with perfectionism and anxiety, there is hope! Anxiety is highly treatable and online anxiety treatment at Briefly Counseling can help.

Using solution focused brief therapy, I help kids and teens reduce their anxiety and build resilience so they can become a happier, more confident version of themselves.

And kids love being able to receive counseling from the comfort and privacy of their own home. Studies have consistently proven that online therapy delivers equal results to in-office counseling.

As an experienced and caring therapist, I love providing online counseling for anxiety. To start your child’s counseling journey, follow these simple steps:

  1. Click on the Schedule an Appointment
  2. Select a day and time in my online calendar
  3. Or learn about me, your caring online therapist 
  4. Watch your child gain confidence and feel better

Helena Madsen, MA, LCPC is the founder of Briefly Counseling. I specialize in providing online short-term anxiety treatment for kids and teens ages 7 – 19 as well as Christian counseling.

I provide all services via online therapy in Illinois. Whether you’re in Naperville, Chicago, Champaign, Rockford, Libertyville, or Crystal Lake, I can help you. Schedule your appointment or consultation today. I look forward to working with your child to quickly and effectively help them in activating their strengths, resources, and resilience, in order to live with confidence and hope.

Visit my website at for more information or call 224-236-2296 to connect with me personally.