The Pursuit of Perfection

My latest issue of Today’s Parent arrived on the weekend. It had an article in it on perfectionism in children, which highlighted the potentially crippling impact perfectionism can have.

I didn’t need to read about the negative side of needing everything to be perfect. I’ve lived with perfectionism for years and have worked very very hard to develop management/coping strategies. Being a perfectionist and a graduate student is a toxic combination.

There was a sidebar in the article titled “What PERFECTIONISM looks like”. It listed five characteristics, and said that researchers can identify meaningful patterns in behaviour by age six.

The five characteristics were:

  • being overly cautious
  • focusing on mistakes rather than successes
  • setting unrealistic goals and getting upset if they are not reached
  • needing to ask a lot of questions
  • being inflexible, believing there’s only one right way to do a task

I read them.

Then I took the article into the kitchen and showed it to Q.

He read the sidebar. “Right,” he said, after a moment’s thought.

The thing is, that sidebar? Described E.


“Who needs to wait until six,” added Q. “We can identify it at age three!”

I’m hoping that maybe researchers chose age six because before that the characteristics of perfectionism were developmentally normal. I’m sure E. is not the only almost four-year-old who could be described as inflexible, or who asks a lot of questions.

But it was a bit of an eye opener.

We might work a bit harder going forward helping E. to embrace the idea of mistakes as a learning experience and an opportunity for practice and/or change.

I don’t want him burdened by this.


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Filed under Anxiety Overload, E.- the fourth year

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