How Perfectionism can Negatively Impact Homework Achievement

Perfectionism seems like a good thing to many people.  It comes with attention to detail, a need to do things right, and a desire to work hard to achieve an outcome.  However, perfectionism, taken to its extreme, really doesn’t do any favors for the perfectionist.  This is especially true for children.  This drive for perfectionism can cause all kinds of problems and issues in the child. 

Perfectionism can negatively impact any kind of work. Perfectionism, by definition, is over-attention to detail. When this pertains to a child in the realm of homework, it can be devastating, not only achievement-wise, but mental health-wise as well.

One problem with perfectionism involves self-talk.  The child tells himself that it must be perfect, or that they can’t do it perfectly, along with other negative talk.  This cuts away at  his self-esteem, making it even more difficult to concentrate on homework completion.  Perfectionism causes anxiety when the student cannot make his/her homework project meet up to some unnamed, internal standard. The student wastes a lot of time trying to achieve this standard and winds up having to rush for other projects or just give up.

If your child doesn’t want to try or is a major procrastinator, he/she may also be a perfectionist. When a student feels she will never meet that internal standard, sometimes she may just want to stop trying.  After all, it’s better to tell the teacher you didn’t finish or you had to rush than to let her see you didn’t do it well.   Internally, you now have an excuse for not reaching perfection: You did it in a hurry or you ran out of time.

If you have a child that tends toward perfectionism to an extreme, where it interferes with his ability to do his homework, there are some things you can do to help.

 1.  Watch your own behavior.  Do you show perfectionistic attitudes in front of your child?  Do you make comments (or even faces) that lead the child to believe her work isn’t good enough?  Let your child know through your own example that it’s OK to make mistakes. 

2.  Be careful in your praise.  The child’s effort is the target of your praise in this situation.  Praising grades can cause a student to fear making anything less than the best. 

3.  Have a homework scedule.  The schedule should include when homework is started and when it is finished.  Giving a child an end time will help her to get her work done on time.  Some perfectionists will spend hours on a project that should not take near that long if we don’t set limits for them.  Of course, be flexible at times.  A homework schedule will give your child freedom to do other things or just hang out for a while.

4.  Leave critique to the teacher.  Your child wants you to be his cheer leader, not his teacher.   If possible, allow all comments about your child’s homework come from him and not you.  A parent’s criticism  will often make a child think he is not measuring up.  There are ways to help your child if he is struggling without criticism.

5.  Empathize without minimizing.  While it’s tempting to tell your child she won’t die from a bad grade, it is better to talk to her about how that felt and acknowledge her feelings than to tell her not to feel that way. 

Having a perfectionist child can be daunting, but using the above ideas, you can handle it.  Bring him gently to a new understanding of acceptable that allows for mistakes and the occasional bad grade.  After all, everyone makes mistakes and mistakes are just a springboard for more learning.