As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the LORD is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him. For who is God, except the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God? It is God who arms me with strength, and makes my way perfect.
Many kids today however learn to look excellent on the outside in order to please and to perform. On the inside however they are anxious and discouraged. They are the perfectionists who invade our schools in growing numbers. Their very worth depends on looking perfect to the outside world while on the inside they live in a perpetual state of negative evaluation, always striving but never reaching their goals.
They learn this behavior both through a culture that extols perfection as well as in homes where they come to believe that performance is connected with whether or not their parents value them. Their world is saturated with images of perfect bodies, perfect faces, perfect hair and nails, perfect make-up and perfect teeth. Many have been told to set their sights on only the best colleges and the “best” careers, that their very happiness and worth depends upon being the very best in something.
The Christian home is not immune from the debilitating grip of perfectionism. While most Christian parents intellectually know that one’s worthiness is found solely in Christ, they fall prey to inadvertently connecting performance with worthiness for their kids.
If we are to actually see our kids become strong achievers, we must move from extolling perfection to seeking after excellence. The differences may appear subtle on the surface but seeking perfection or seeking excellence brings about vastly different outcomes.
Excellence produces fineness, merit, quality and distinction.
Perfection (to be flawless, without fault) on the other hand, produces deep seated anxiety, profound discouragement and utter helplessness.
The parents who set and consistently expect high standards AND still unconditionally love their kids through mistakes and failures, raise kids with a bend toward excellence.
Their kids are joyful and exciting to watch. They work hard and can be counted on to faithfully do their part. They are motivated by their goals and figure out ways to reach them. They receive correction well and view it as a means to get better. They are not inflated by praise NOR deflated by setbacks. They are resilient. While they desire to please, they do not link their performance to their parent’s love for them. Their parents allow them to make mistakes and calmly respond to failures, trusting the student to manage their own problems. They are free to learn and to grow without fear.
These parents become overly anxious when their kids mess up, almost as if their own reputation is on the line. They tend to praise and reward success with love, attention and/or gifts while punishing failure by withdrawing love and becoming angry. They see it as their duty to be critical of their kids, watching their every move, and they tend to be critical of others as well. By adolescence their kids are exhibiting perfectionist tendencies, either by striving in constant “overachiever mode” OR by giving up and not caring OR by placing themselves in a safety zone where they can survive but remain a frustrating distance from success. Because they place so much stock in results and become so disappointed by anything less than perfection, failure has become too scary of a prospect.
I watch these kids daily. They act one way at home and a different way at school. I see kids who exhibit disordered eating and others who are hampered by anxiety disorders. Still others turn to self destructive habits both in their performance and in their relationships. They assume that no one likes them. They respond poorly to criticism on the inside- either by over apologizing or getting defensive – because criticism rocks them to the core. They tend to worry so much about doing something imperfectly that they become immobilized and fail to do anything at all! (procrastination) Unlike the kids who are motivated by their goals and happy with any steps made in the right direction, these kids are pushed toward their goals by a fear of not reaching them, They are much less happy and easygoing than kids who strive for excellence and they struggle to bounce back from disappointments. They tend to beat themselves up much more and wallow in negative feelings.
Because of the prevalence of this issue today, I will be devoting a series of blogs to this topic in the next few weeks. Check out the chart below for a list of practical tips.
Practical Tips for Raising Excellent NOT PERFECT KIDS
- Focus on getting better and not on mistakes.
- Provide a safe place for failing and making mistakes.
- Use correction rather than criticism and teach them to view correction as an opportunity to grow. (Correction is about what you want them to do. Criticism is about what’s wrong.)
- Don’t over react to mistakes; stay calm and collected.
- Don’t confuse work with fruit: seek the work of the spirit within the heart over external performance.
- Focus on attitude over performance.
- Be more concerned about your heart connection than with their performance
- Nurture and model a teachable spirit- give up your right to be right –and don’t judge who is right and who is wrong in the midst of “sibling conflicts.”
- Don’t model a critical spirit – a focus on failure of others over your own spiritual needs.
- Encourage motivation rooted in faithfulness over success or desire to be recognized.
- Do not be preoccupied by what others think of you or your kids and do not be driven to protect image.
- While setting long term goals is important, keeping their eyes constantly on long-term goal can distract from performance because it creates such distance from the goal. Focus also on the short-term sub-goals, especially after failure.
- Help them set reasonably high goals that stretch them but not goals that are out of reach.
- Be content with “almost perfect” as a job well done.