Before you can understand how to help a perfectionist student, it’s important to understand what it really means to be a perfectionist. Merriam-Webster defines perfectionism as ““the disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.” Thus, perfectionism is essentially the pursuit of an impossible idea, as nothing can ever truly be “perfect.”
So how do people become perfectionists? Perfectionism usually stems from a fear of failure and an addiction to praise. Since perfectionists are constantly trying to attain excellence and succeed, they quickly start to associate “being perfect” with their identity. For instance, a perfectionist becomes consumed with thoughts like:
- What will they think of me?
- What if they find out I’m not as great as they think I am?
- What people like about me is that I’m talented/smart.
- I should know how to do this.
The fear of failure then feeds into the need for praise.
If you’re not sure if your child is being a perfectionist in school, consider these examples of things a perfectionist student may do:
- Refuse to submit schoolwork until it’s absolutely “perfect.”
- Revise a paper or project endlessly.
- Get easily discouraged after making a minor mistake.
- Put themselves down for earning a low grade.
- Obsess about a specific project or test.
One of the most helpful interventions for perfectionist students stems from the practice of reframing things within a growth mindset.