5 Strategies to Help Your Perfectionist Student

Sep 13 2023 0 Comments

Frustrated student with parent

Perfectionism in students can be a double-edged sword. While it often leads to high achievement and attention to detail, it can also cause stress, anxiety, and a fear of failure. As parents, we can guide perfectionist students towards a balanced approach to life and learning.

Perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by setting extremely high standards and striving for flawlessness. While it can be a positive trait in moderation, it becomes problematic when it causes distress and interferes with a student's well-being or ability to function effectively.

Perfectionist students tend to:

  • Set unrealistic standards for themselves.
  • Be overly self-critical.
  • Fear making mistakes.
  • Experience anxiety and stress related to performance.
  • Struggle with adaptability and resilience.

Here are five strategies to support perfectionist students.

1. Encourage a Growth Mindset
One of the most effective ways to help your perfectionist child is to nurture a growth mindset. Psychologist Carol Dweck coined this term, referring to the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication and hard work. Students with a growth mindset are more likely to view challenges as opportunities for learning and growth rather than as tests of their innate abilities.

Encourage a growth mindset by:

  • Praising effort and resilience rather than innate talent.
  • Highlighting the value of mistakes as learning experiences.
  • Modeling a growth mindset in your own endeavors.

Research has shown that students who embrace a growth mindset tend to be more adaptable, less anxious, and better equipped to handle setbacks.

2. Teach Coping Skills
Perfectionist students often struggle with intense emotions, especially when they perceive that they've fallen short of their high standards. Teaching them coping skills can help them manage these emotions effectively. Some useful strategies include:

  • Deep breathing exercises to reduce anxiety.
  • Mindfulness techniques to stay present and calm.
  • Journaling to express and process feelings.
  • Positive self-talk to challenge negative thoughts.

By providing your student with these tools, you equip them to handle the emotional ups and downs that often accompany perfectionism.

3. Foster a Safe Environment
It's essential for perfectionist students to feel safe and supported at home. Create an environment where they know they can make mistakes without fear of harsh judgment or criticism. Here's how:

  • Offer constructive feedback instead of criticism.
  • Praise their efforts and progress, not just the end result.
  • Emphasize that your love and approval are not dependent on their achievements.
  • Model self-compassion and self-acceptance.

When students feel safe and loved unconditionally, they are more likely to develop a healthier relationship with perfectionism.

4. Set Realistic Expectations
Help your perfectionist student set more realistic expectations for themselves. Encourage them to break down large tasks into smaller, manageable steps. This approach not only reduces the feeling of being overwhelmed but also allows them to celebrate small victories along the way.

Additionally, help your student recognize that perfection is an unattainable goal. Remind them that it's okay to make mistakes and that nobody is flawless. Share stories of successful individuals who faced failures but persevered, reinforcing the idea that setbacks are part of the journey to success.

5. Be a Positive Role Model
Students often learn by example, and as parents, we can be the most significant role models in a student’s life. We have the opportunity to demonstrate a healthy approach to achievement, mistakes, and self-acceptance through our own actions and attitudes.

  • Show resilience: By openly discussing how we handle challenges and setbacks can show our resilience. Emphasize that making mistakes is a natural part of learning and growing.
  • Practice self-compassion: Model self-kindness by being forgiving and gentle with ourself when things don't go as planned. Avoid harsh self-criticism in front of our students.
  • Share your learning experiences: Share stories from our own lives where we’ve learned valuable lessons from mistakes or failures. Highlight the growth and resilience that came from those experiences

Perfectionism in students can be a complex trait, with both positive and negative aspects. While it often drives achievement, it can also lead to anxiety and distress. As parents, we play a vital role in helping our perfectionist students find balance and develop a healthier relationship with high standards.

Encourage a growth mindset, teach coping skills, foster a safe and supportive environment, set realistic expectations, and be a positive role model. By implementing these strategies, you can empower your student to embrace their imperfections, learn from their mistakes, and grow into resilient, confident individuals who thrive in the face of challenges.

Also, keep in mind that if your student shows signs of anxiety or depression, consider seeking professional help. Remember that your love and guidance are instrumental in helping your student navigate the complexities of perfectionism. 


Stacey Montgomery
Founder, Stacey M Design Inc.


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