Child perfectionism

Leah Davies discusses ways of working with children who have “perfectionist” tendencies.

Children who have perfectionist tendencies exhibit a continuum of behaviors. On one end of the spectrum are children who take pleasure from doing difficult tasks, setting high standards for themselves, and putting forth the necessary energy for great achievement. On the other end of the continuum are those children who are unable to glean satisfaction from their efforts due to their preset, unrealistic goals.

Since mistakes are unacceptable, perfectionism provides these students with little pleasure and much self-reproach.

Perfectionism appears to result from a combination of inborn tendencies and environmental factors. These can include excessive praise or demands from parents, teachers or trainers, observation of adults modeling perfectionist characteristics, and from parental love being conditional upon the child’s exemplary achievement.

Extreme perfectionism has been linked to performance and social anxiety, eating disorders, migraine headaches, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and suicide. When this behavior obstructs growth in the areas of achievement and social relationships, these children need assistance from educators.

Some characteristics of children who are extreme perfectionists:

• having exceptionally high expectations for themselves;
• being self-critical, self-conscious and easily embarrassed;
• having strong feelings of inadequacy and low self-confidence;
• exhibiting persistent anxiety about making mistakes;
• being highly sensitive to criticism;
• procrastinating and avoiding stressful situations or difficult tasks;
• being emotionally guarded and socially inhibited;
• having a tendency to be critical of others;
• exhibiting difficulty making decisions and prioritizing tasks;
• experiencing headaches or other physical ailments when they perform below the expectations of themselves or others.

Gifted children, who are accustomed to excelling, are often perfectionists. Problems occur if they refuse to attempt a new assignments or do not complete their work because it may not be done flawlessly. The result is gifted children who are underachievers.

These students are also susceptible to burn-out if they attempt to display exemplary performance in every academic discipline (see Gifted Children).

Ways to help “perfectionists”

Leah has written two practical guides for teachers working with children who exhibit “perfectionism”. Just click below:

  1. 30 ideas for teachers working with children who exhibit extreme perfectionism.
  2. 10 ideas for how to guide the parents of these students.


Children who suffer from extreme perfectionism need assistance from the adults in their lives. They may also need help from a professional therapist. The goal would be to reduce their perfectionists tendencies to the point of having them become an asset rather than a liability.


By Leah Davies, M.Ed.

Leah Davies received her Master’s Degree from the Department of Counseling and Counseling Psychology, Auburn University. Her professional experience of over 44 years includes teaching, counseling, consulting, instructing at Auburn University, and directing educational and prevention services at a mental health agency.

See more from Leah at her Kelly Bear resources website


Here’s another chance to download the PDFs. Just click the pictures:

Click on the image to download the free PDF for ideas about helping parents.

10 ideas for helping parents of children who exhibit “perfectionism”.




Click on the image to download the free PDF for teaching ideas for effective intervention.

30 ideas for teachers working with children who exhibit “perfectionism”


Feature Image: Pixabay – Banana Leaf

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