Perfectionism and Self-Acceptance in the Classroom

Adults and children alike can experience an internal battle with our inner critic. Sometimes our inner critics can get very loud, leading to feelings of anxiety, guilt or shame. Most of us don’t love feeling guilt or shame so we find strategies to avoid these feelings.  One of these strategies is perfectionism. Perfectionism is when parts of us want things to be just right in order to avoid some type of negative outcome. Sometimes what we are trying to avoid is internal self-blame, other times its criticism or blame from others. Still, other times it's because we are trying to avoid the disappointment of things not going as we had planned. 

Perfectionism and anxiety go hand in hand. As we work to be perfect in an “imperfect” world,  we are bound to hit some challenges along the way. Here are some signs of perfectionism: 

  • Feeling badly about something unless over 100% effort is given
  • Difficulty starting tasks
  • Procrastination
  • Avoiding situations that could end in failure
  • Being highly critical of one’s self 
  • Difficulty coping with making mistakes 
  • Struggling with shame/embarrassment 
  • Struggling with self-doubt 
  • Struggling with appearing vulnerable
  • Focusing strongly on outcomes or end-results 

The signs above can apply to both children and adults. Do you see any that you recognize? Sometimes it can be hard to pick up on perfectionistic tendencies in young children.  Younger children may show perfectionism less verbally, and more in how they behave in certain situations. For instance: 

  • Having frequent meltdowns when they make a mistake
  • Expressing embarrassment or shame when they get hurt
  • Working hard to avoid disappointing others 
  • Struggling with making choices 
  • Avoiding trying new things or starting tasks
  • Constantly asking for adult help for tasks they are able to do themselves. 

To be clear these signs need to be taken in context as there are other reasons children may show these behaviors- but it can be helpful to begin to notice what is triggering to each child. If it seems like it may be along the themes of “making mistakes” or having things be “just so”- perfectionism may be what you are seeing. If we notice these things early, we can start to support children to learn self-acceptance. 

So what can you do if you notice a child struggling with perfectionism or their own inner-critic? Moving towards self-acceptance can help find ways of welcoming all parts of us, just the way they are. Try some of these ideas for supporting self-acceptance in the classroom environments: 

 Here are some ideas for supporting perfectionist students in the classroom: 

  • Set your Classroom Culture: Make clear from day one that making mistakes is celebrated in your classroom. Just like Ms Frizzle from The Magic School Bus says, “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!” Adopt your own class mantra to celebrate being human and taking risks. 
    1. Make Expectations Clear:  Sometimes perfectionist students benefit from hearing clearly what the expectation is (and what it isn’t!), because they really want to meet them! Saying “I’m expecting that you write for 10 minutes and try your best, I am not expecting that you complete your story today in class.” 
    2. Be gentle with all students when they make mistakes: Sometimes perfectionist students struggle when watching their peers “get in trouble.” They can be very impacted by watching another student get reprimanded. 
    3. Be a Strong Leader: Perfectionist students can sometimes take on too-much responsibility for their peers in a chaotic classroom environment. When teachers step in to be a strong leader in the classroom, all students can relax into their roles of being the “learners.” 
    4. Check in with your “rule-followers”: Your students that are quiet, follow the rules and meet expectations may be holding in their stress and anxiety. They may be holding it together at school only to lose-control at home to release the tension. Take some time to check in with students, (and parents) even when they are doing well in the classroom. Sometimes there is more than meets the eye. 

    If you are interested in learning more about our newest creature collection and self-acceptance books or if you want to learn more about our interactive lessons for educators to utilize in the classroom read on.


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