How to Teach Perfectionist Kids the Power of Self-Forgiveness
It seems that more often than not, whenever we talk about forgiveness, it’s mainly focused on forgiving others. However, just important as it is to teach children to forgive others, it’s equally important to teach them the importance of forgiving themselves.
When we teach our children how to forgive the shortcomings and transgressions of others, we are teaching them that no one is perfect… yet we don’t seem to teach them how to offer that same tolerance to themselves. This lesson becomes even more important when you’re dealing with perfectionist children, who hold themselves to particularly high standards.
The Perfectionist Child
In our achievement-obsessed culture, the need to perform at an unprecedented standard is a constant stress. Children, as a whole, are driven by the desire to please. Some children feel that desire so strongly that they set their bar incredibly high. If they don’t meet their often unrealistic standards, they can feel like a terrible person or worse, like a failure. Their internal voice that strives for perfectionism makes making mistakes a frightening experience. That fear then becomes an obstacle in their learning and makes it near impossible to find enjoyment in their activities.
If you’re dealing with a perfectionist, you’re likely seeing some of these behaviors:
- Anxiety and anger over making mistakes
- Difficulty completing tasks where they’re not sure to excel
- Fear of embarrassment and humiliation
- Frustration over difficult tasks
- Overly cautious in approaching new tasks or flat out refusing to take them on
- Over-the-top meltdowns when projects goes differently than anticipated
Why Self-Forgiveness Is So Important
Let’s face it, when people hurt or disappoint us, an apology helps us find the closure we need. The same is true when it comes to forgiving ourselves. But the good news is that we can find closure anytime that we choose and move on. Forgiving ourselves isn’t about fixing the error, but coming to terms with it.
Perfectionist children need to accept what they see as their mistakes and forgive themselves for putting themselves down for their shortcomings. They tend to relentlessly beat themselves up about their own perceived “failures” to the point of overwhelming anxiety, depression, and self-hate.
You can help young perfectionists move towards self forgiveness by:
- Teaching them to acknowledge their efforts. Help your child move towards self-praise by talking through the effort they put into their work, rather than focusing on the outcome.
- Helping them to see mistakes as an opportunity to improve. Work together to find solutions to their perceived mistake and point out the beauty of that lesson learned.
- Replacing criticism with positive statements that acknowledge improvement and effort. Try to get your child to look at the bigger picture to see the task at hand as a process rather than an outcome.
- Sharing examples of mistakes that led to new discoveries. Pick out books on mistakes people have made that led to inventions. Talk about famous figures who lived through a series of failed attempts before making their breakthrough.
- Being open and honest about your own mistakes. Talk about mistakes you’ve made in the past and how you learned from them. Show the humor in those situations.
- Repeating the mantra that “making mistakes is ok, beating yourself up for them isn’t.” Explain to your child that the real mistake is berating oneself, not the error in the task at hand.
- Expecting an apology. Just as you would expect your child to apologize to someone else for their rude remarks, so too should you when their negative comments are directed at themselves.
We spend a lot of time teaching kids to show kindness and compassion to others. We need to also make sure they know how to show it to themselves.
Any Kind of Forgiveness Is an Ongoing Process
Forgiveness is an ongoing process– it’s not an event. We might tell someone that we are sorry, or vice versa, but it isn’t like a magic wand that suddenly makes the anger, hurt, or mistrust instantly disappear. It is the same when it comes to forgiving ourselves—we might tell ourselves that we are sorry for our actions, bad decisions, or negative comments, but that doesn’t mean the hurt magically vanishes— sometimes it takes a while for us to offer ourselves the same kind of forgiveness that we are willing to extend to others, so we need to be patient.
In my experience, I have found that teaching my children the power of forgiving themselves and others not only makes them better and stronger people, but it also teaches them to be realistic about the imperfections of all human beings.
Self-Forgiveness Is the Greatest Form of Self-Love
Most importantly, when we forgive others for their mistakes, we are experiencing kindness and compassion at its most basic level. But when we teach our children the value of practicing self-forgiveness, that kindness transcends into something much more powerful. It becomes self-love.
How do you teach your child about self-forgiveness? Share your thoughts with us.