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Are You a Perfectionist Parent?

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson


Do you know this mother? She won’t let her children dress themselves because “they do it wrong.” So she lays out their outfits each day, even though, at ages three and six, they are pretty much capable of dressing themselves.

How about this dad? He likes to shoot baskets in the driveway with his kids but he keeps criticizing how they stand and how they shoot, to the point they don’t like to play basketball at all anymore.  Do you know this guy?

Parents don’t have to be mean and controlling. They can be overly helpful and controlling. But the result is the same – unhappy kids who feel unloved instead of feeling loved a lot. These parents are wonderful people. They have high standards and they  try to do everything perfectly. Yes, okay, maybe they’re really perfectionists but why not?  What’s wrong with striving for excellence? What’s wrong with trying to be the very best?

Let me tell you what’s wrong. Let me tell you why being a perfectionist backfires on you and on your kids.

No one likes to be manipulated. You don’t like it and – guess what? – your child doesn’t like it either. Just as you rebel when someone tells you all your faults and seems to know exactly how to fix you, your child rebels too. It doesn’t matter that she’s the child and you’re the grownup. It doesn’t matter that you have more experience and vision. Nobody wants to be someone else’s project. Everyone wants to belong to herself.

Your child is not your property. She’s an independent human being.

So, being controlling and having a lot of rules will create a barrier between the two of you.  It won’t “fix” her but will make her more committed to her own point-of-view. Or, even worse, it will make her completely unsure of herself and totally dependent on you. For life.

A better plan is to guide your child in feeling great about herself, competent, capable, and smart. Give her opportunities to try new things and to see how they work out. Help her develop her ability to pay attention, to solve problems on her own, and to think ahead.

Children who are under someone else’s control never know what to do. Left to their own devices they either go crazy and wind up in detention somewhere or they are too fearful and uncertain to do anything at all. Neither way is perfect. Neither way is the way you envision your child growing up to be.

So, if you’re inclined to fix people, start with yourself. Learn to appreciate and nurture, learn to guide and support. Give up being in control of your child and gradually, with your loving help, let your child be in control of herself.

You and your child. Together you can be the perfect family.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.