Question of the Day: Perfectionistic Teen
This is about Jenny and her perfectionistic teen:
“Hi Torie, I recently started listening to your podcasts after finding Brooke Castillo from a friend.”
(If you haven’t heard Brooke Castillo’s podcast, I highly recommend it. She is one of my life coaching teachers and her podcast is called The Life Coach School Podcast. If you’re looking for a new podcast to listen to check her out for sure.)
Jenny says, “I’m fairly new to this life coaching stuff, but I’ve seen huge changes in myself since listening and applying the principles you and Brooke teach. I find that I’m not sure how to help my children discover these amazing liberating principles.
My oldest, who’s 13, is a lot like me (or who I was). He’s a total people-pleaser and major perfectionist. This sweet boy does everything he can to try and control everyone else’s happiness to his own detriment. I think he thinks that, if he’s perfect, I (or his teachers) will be happy.
When I try to give him suggestions or point this out he calls himself “dumb” and a “failure”. In fact, he is calling himself these things almost daily! Just today he said, “I’m so dumb why can’t everyone else see that?!” This is a constant issue for him. He would rather get a worse grade or not perform to his full ability, than to talk to his teachers or coaches and admit he doesn’t understand how to do something. How do I help this well-intentioned but out of control boy? He is literally destroying and hindering himself to make everyone else happy.”
Parent Education Answer: Handling Your Perfectionistic Teen
Here are some parenting tips that you can implement to help your perfectionistic teen (or child no matter what age).
- Celebrate mistakes – It’s a tricky one to do when you are a recovering perfectionist yourself, but it’s worthwhile. Go around the dinner table and ask everyone to share their biggest mistake. Whoever made the biggest faux pas gets the biggest dessert. Talk about your “failures” or embarrassing mistakes you made when you were his age. We can mess with his mind by viewing mistakes as a good thing. We make mistakes when we take a risk, push outside our comfort zone, and live life to the fullest and live as a human.
Right now, your son feels shame, when he even contemplates making a mistake. Shame can only live in the dark. When you bring it out into the light, laugh at it, own up to it, and celebrate it, it loses its power.
2. Two magic words – Incorporate these magical two words into your vocabulary. “Oh Well” Using these words on a daily basis is one of the greatest ways you can help your child learn to go with the flow. “We’re late again. Oh well!” “I didn’t get my homework assignment in on time. Oh well!” “I was too scared to talk to the coach about getting more play time. Oh well!” “I’m trying to make everyone happy except for myself, Oh well.” Try it and notice how your muscles relax and the tension melts away.
- Personality Puppet Show – I like to tell kids that they have a personality puppet show going on in their brains. When your child is calm, grab a piece of paper, sit down with him, and draw pictures of your inner perfectionists. Together, create characters out of the voices in your heads that say, “You aren’t good enough.”
Does it sound like a male or female voice? Is it more of an animal or cartoon character? What kind of clothes does it wear? What kind of movements and facial expressions can you imagine? Really create a clear visual of this inner perfectionist. Draw a speech bubble over its head with the things it likes to say: “I’m dumb” “I’m stupid” “Whatever I do is never enough.”
To begin with, ask yourselves: “Would I want to be friends with somebody who spoke to me that way?” “Would I ever talk to somebody else like that?” If not, thank your inner perfectionists for trying to keep you safe, tell her, “Your opinion is noted, but not welcome.” Feed her a snack and send her out for a walk. She or he will be back anytime you do something outside your comfort zone. Talking to authority figures sounds like a trigger for your son, so expect this inner perfectionist to show up every time he admits his imperfection.
As you write and talk about your inner perfectionists, you will remove the shame of it. When you can separate out this character from the other parts of you, it creates breathing space. You realize, “I am not my inner perfectionist.” “I am the one who can observe it.”
Also, encourage your son (when he’s calm) to think of a time when he made a mistake and he didn’t beat himself up for it. I guarantee there was a time! Maybe he spilled some milk or forgot his jacket at a friend’s house. It can be very simple like he forgot to put the toilet seat down. Have him notice the voice that didn’t make a big deal about it. What did it say? It was probably something very easy going like, “Oh well!” or “No big deal”. Show him that he already has this voice in his head. Ask him which voice he would rather be friends with? Which voice does he respect more?
Life Coaching Answer:
What gets in the way of being able to implement these strategies? Well, I’m sure you realize that your own in her perfectionist is going to get into the way.
When you have a situation like Jenny has here with her perfectionistic teen, it’s not unusual for a mom to type into the search bar “How to help a perfectionistic teen”. What comes up, is a lot of articles that make you feel so bad about yourself that you are unable to help your son.
You read an article with well-meaning advice like “It’s crucial to teach this to your children.” Your children are watching how you react to every situation.” “Make sure you are modeling good behavior.” “Children need to know blah blah blah so don’t dismiss it because you need to demonstrate these skills….”
It’s easy for a perfectionistic mom, worried about doing everything right, will read this and think, “I suck. His anxiety is all my fault. I totally screwed him up and I’m doing it all wrong.”
ARTICLES LIKE THIS IS WHY I STARTED THIS PODCAST
It’s true, that there are at least 20 different things that mom can do to help her son’s perfectionism. But listing 20 ways MOM needs to change, overnight, or else SHE is causing her son to be unhappy and stressed. Umm…NOT HELPFUL!
So what keeps us from helping our kids deal with their perfectionism? Our own perfectionism and a culture that feeds right into it.
The best way for Jenny to help her son is to pay attention to her own emotions and keep doing what she’s doing, to tame her own inner perfectionist. Focusing on herself and her own growth, while staying away from media that make her feel like she isn’t already perfect as she is.
Working on Yourself
Work on yourself, in front of your son, in these 3 ways:
- Talk out loud about what your inner perfectionist saying. “I can hear my inner perfectionist getting mad about my being late. She is saying, ‘I should have left earlier.’ ‘I should have allowed more time.’ ‘I’m such an idiot.’ ‘They are going to be mad at me.’ I would never talk that way to anyone else. It’s super mean! So, I’m going to send my inner perfectionist to Starbucks and just say, ‘Oh well!'”
- Talk out loud about your emotions. Because your son is 13, I would start by modeling this yourself. Say, “I’m feeling embarrassed because I didn’t do everything perfectly. My cheeks are hot and I feel like crawling into a ball and hiding.” Or, “I’m mad at myself because I said something dumb. I wish I could take it back. I feel tension in my shoulders and my fists are clenched.”
If he was younger, I would ask him where in his body he feels the emotion, what color is it, what it feels like, etc. Perfectionism is a kind of anxiety and anxiety is an avoidance of emotions. When you can learn to process emotions, there is no need for anxiety.
- Love more, care less. This is something I work on in my Leading Your Teen Masterclass.
First of all, love the person your kid is today, with flaws and imperfections, and care less about how he shows up in the world. Care less about his grades, whether he talks to coaches or teachers, but love him more, as the perfectly imperfect 13 year old he is.
It helps to know that, care, unchecked, can feel controlling. Love is expansive, compassionate and is just what a stressed out perfectionistic teen needs. Take the pressure off by accepting him just as he is today.
Supermom Kryptonite – Suppressing our inner perfectionist.
When we first realize we’ve got this voice in our heads that is mean and not helpful, our first instinct is to kick it to the curb and get rid of it. When we hear our kids saying, “I’m dumb” we want to jump in and shut that awful voice down! We tell them that of course they aren’t dumb and as you’ve learned, that doesn’t work. He gets annoyed that you don’t agree with his mean and limiting beliefs!
The same is true for us. When we deny or suppress our inner critic, it creates tension, resistance, and “exploding doormat syndrome” where we explode at minor problems.
Instead, try turning the volume up on this mean, critical voice. When we turn the volume up and, create a character and personality associated with this voice, there is no resistance. It allows us to see it separately and not believe that everything this voice says is true. It also teaches us that if we can turn a voice up, we may also be able to turn it down.
Supermom Power Boost – Queer Eye Netflix Show
If you are going to have a harsh inner critic, you’ll want to have a powerful inner cheerleader, too. We can be this for our children, but sometimes we need inspiration. I find the Fab 5 from the Queer Eye show on Netflix to be a great source of inspiration.
These 5 men help someone change without making them feel bad for being the way they are. The show offers life makeovers, but also love, kindness, and compassion. Watch this feel-good show for inspiration and ideas on how to support yourself and your kids, while being perfectly imperfect.
Whenever I’m feeling embarrassed or inadequate, I like to pretend the Fab 5 are talking to about me. “We love Torie, she’s gorgeous, look at her fabulous self, she’s so great”. It makes me smile every time. We all need our own cheerleading squad to help us cope with being imperfect in a perfectionistic world.
Quote of the Day
“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”
― Carol S. Dweck www.mindsetonline.com