My Child's a Perfectionist: How Can I Help Them?

Does your child feel enormous anger and frustration when they can't meet their goals? Perhaps your child's a perfectionist. Learn more.
My Child's a Perfectionist: How Can I Help Them?
Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 26 September, 2023

Does your child get angry because the neighbors don’t play nicely? Do they start their drawing over and over again because they don’t turn out the way they like? Do they take too long to accomplish something simple? These are some of the behaviors that could be signs that your child’s a perfectionist.

When we think about perfectionism, we almost always manage to appreciate the positive side of the result achieved. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do things at a level we’re happy with and, in fact, it works as a motivator. However, when the results aren’t what we want, it feels like a frustrating blow. So, how does perfectionism impact children? How can we help them? Let’s take a look at the answers to these questions in the following article.

How do I know if my child’s a perfectionist?

During childhood, the same behavior can have multiple meanings. At a younger age, children have greater difficulty in expressing what’s bothering them. With the passing of time and the learning of emotions, they begin to words to their emotions and feelings.

That’s why, in your children, some actions can be confusing, and behaviors like uncontrolled crying can mean anything from hunger to anger.

Let’s look at some of the characteristics that might help us identify when it is perfectionism or over-eagerness:
  • Your child feels enormous anger and frustration when they can’t reach their goals. For example, they may have a big tantrum when the pencil line just barely misses a shape they were supposed to draw.
  • They don’t like to be the butt of jokes. While they don’t conceptualize it that way, it makes them feel exposed and insecure.
  • There’s no argument to justify their “failure” if they don’t win or if they don’t do well. It’s not just a game, but something that affects them and causes them intense discomfort.
  • They have rigid modes of behavior. They perceive that they know the way and are in control of the situation.
  • They don’t try new or unfamiliar things. They know that if they do, they may be exposed to error or failure, as things don’t necessarily go right the first time.
  • They’re sensitive to criticism. If they receive it, they abandon the activity.
  • They’re interested in recognition from people they consider important. For example, they want their teacher to congratulate them or recognize their work.
  • They may become angry when other people’s achievements are recognized. For example, on returning from a walk, your child may become angry if you compliment their sibling for her good behavior.
A young boy feeling frustrated while doing a craft in class.
It’s important to detect early the signs that a child’s a perfectionist and help them find healthier ways to achieve what they set out to do.

How can I help if my child’s a perfectionist?

Perfectionism produces discomfort because it’s always unattainable, as everything can be improved and could have been done better. Frustration becomes a constant and there’s little appreciation for what has been achieved.

Here are some strategies to consider.

Analyze the message you transmit

It’s important to know that many children’s behaviors are related to the behaviors and attitudes of their environment. So, adult figures should ask themselves what expectations and demands they have. Sometimes we try to live through our children’s lives and project on them those things that we would have wanted to do or be.
For example, a parent who would have wanted to succeed in swimming puts pressure on their child to do that sport and be the best. This can result in them feeling a great deal of pressure not to disappoint and can even have the counterproductive effect of diminishing their performance.

On the contrary, it’s important to take into account the child’s opinion, let them be the protagonists of their own lives, and encourage their autonomy.

Be careful with what you value

It’s also necessary to review what things you recognize or highlight. For example, if you always praise them only because they’re excellent at swimming, the message that’s interpreted is that we only care about that and not about other qualities or attributes. This may encourage them to become obsessed with achieving a certain result, as they interpret that they’re worthy or loved based on this aspect.

Teach them to value the process and their failures

Both when they achieve their goals and especially when they don’t, it’s very useful to help them focus on the process. We should ask questions about how they experienced it and emphasize how important the effort and the journey are, no matter what the result. It’s important to encourage your child to think in terms of the small steps. In this way, you move away from that place of all or nothing, an extreme in which perfectionists tend to fall.

Help them express their emotions

When a perfectionist child doesn’t achieve what they want, rather than offering a consolation such as “Don’t worry, next time will be better”, the first thing they need is to be validated in their emotion. That is, you need to facilitate the conditions for them to express how they feel and then help them manage these emotions.

A child sitting on a soccer field with his bac turned toward the camera.
It’s important to validate the child’s emotions when he feels frustration or anger, and then help him to manage his emotions.

Why perfectionism can be limiting

Perfectionism is an obstacle to full development, as it has some consequences such as the following:
  • It limits creativity, flexibility, and spontaneity.
  • It affects self-esteem.
  • Greater wear and tear when facing a task.
  • The child experiences great frustration.
  • Perfectionists attempt to impose themselves, as they consider that the way they do things is the only correct way.
  • Perfectionism generates stress, anxiety, and other disorders.
  • It’s impossible to enjoy many activities.
You may be interested in: How to Respond to a Very Demanding Child

Final recommendations

It’s not about telling a child that they should settle, but helping them see the real value of effort, the learning process, and even failed attempts. Also, it’s very important to be careful with the issue of “labels” during childhood. The phrase “they’re a little perfectionist” can condition the way children think and behave. At certain ages, they’re still not very clear that, with time, people can change, learn, and unlearn.

As there’s a literalness in what’s being said, we must prevent this label from becoming entrenched and causing the feeling that nothing can be done about the behaviors that make them suffer. This should be thought not only regarding children but also about their parents. Finally, in a society that encourages excessive competition, adult figures should be the compass that guides children to escape from excessive demands.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Aguilar Durán, Leonardo Andrés, & Castellanos López, Marilyn Yisneida. (2016). PERFECCIONISMO INFANTIL: UNA REVISIÓN DE LA LITERATURA. Ajayu Órgano de Difusión Científica del Departamento de Psicología UCBSP14(2), 162-226. Recuperado en 14 de junio de 2021, de
  • José Manuel García-Fernández, Cándido J. Inglés, María Vicent, Carolina Gonzálvez, María Isabel Gómez-Núñez, Patricia Poveda-Serra, Perfeccionismo durante la infancia y la adolescencia. Análisis bibliométrico y temático (2004-2014), Revista Iberoamericana de Psicología y Salud, Volume 7, Issue 2, 2016, Pages 79-88,
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  • Oros, Laura B., & Vargas-Rubilar, Jael. (2016). Children’s perfectionism: a normalization of an argentinian scale for its measure. Acción Psicológica13(2), 117-126.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.