She sat at the table, head in her hands, with tears streaming silently down her cheeks.
"I just can't get it!!" she moaned, concerning the math problems staring her down from the page before her.
Earlier this week she was frustrated that her hair wouldn't stay in the perfect spot when she had her bike helmet on to go ride her scooter outside.
Granted, perfectionism is a personality trait that varies greatly from person to person, but in this day of Pinterest and viral posts and, well, Pinterest, its difficult to fight the pressure to be perfect in all things.
I see this in all three of my kiddos, not just my textbook-type-A-firstborn. Even my four year old son is reduced to tears when his drawing isn't exactly like the one in the book.
And while I am all for putting our best foot forward, and not setting for less than our best potential, I think we can do a lot to help release the tremendous pressure for perfection facing our kids today.
1. Focus on the effort, not just the result. Whether your child has come home with a straight A report card, or is distraught because her art project just won't turn out right, praise her effort. Recognize how hard she has worked. Help her see that she should be proud of herself for persevering and not giving up when things got tough. Recognize how disappointing it can be when things don't quite turn out how we envisioned in our heads, but encourage her that lessons learned in the process are what shape her and help her to grow. This also helps to guard against the child finding his value/identity in the constant positive (or negative) outcomes of his various endeavors.
2. Share your less than perfect moments. It's okay for our kids to see us fail; in fact, I think it's really good for them! When they see us in less than perfect moments, they can then see how to handle those times. Be willing, also, to talk with them about it. For example, I make specials cakes for our kids' birthdays each year. In the 10 years I've been a mom, I think I've had one cake actually turn out the way I had envisioned. I've been able to talk through with my children about how I had imagined it, and that sometimes things just don't turn out, no matter how hard we work at it. I remind them that the reason I make these cakes is because I love them (my kids), and they love the cakes. As long as they enjoy the cake and feel loved, the exact end result doesn't matter.
3. Study people from the Bible who God used despite their imperfections. David was an adulterer, Moses had a speech impediment, Peter had a pride issue, Gomer was a prostitute. God has always used less than perfect people in order to carry out His extraordinary, incredibly perfect plan. Sometimes it can be very freeing to remember that God loves and works in/through us just as we are; and does not love/work through us any less when things don't go the way we had hoped/planned.
4. Help them discover the difference between conviction and guilt. Sometimes our kids are beating themselves up about something because they are under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. They know there is something in the way they think, talk or act that is not pleasing to Him, and until they surrender that to Him life can be quite miserable. Other times, our kids are riddled with guilt over what they think they should be, or who they wished they are. Guilt is condemning, paralyzing, and speaks shame. You're so dumb! If only you were like your older brother, then you could do it. Conviction can sting, as correction is never a pleasant experience, but conviction brings hope, possibility, and way to comfort. The more you lie to your parents, the worse the situation will be. Things won't get any better until you come clean. See the difference? If the source of their inner dialogue is guilt, once he recognizes that, the child is then free to release himself of that burden. If it is conviction, it is up to him to decide if he will act in obedience or not.
5. Model how to not take yourself so seriously/laugh at yourself. Sometimes our kids just need to know it's okay not to be angry at themselves every time something goes awry. One time, I majorly botched up a recipe and dinner was nearly inedible. Everyone at the table was trying to politely choke it down (kind of like when Rachel made the English Trifle on Friends). Finally, I burst into laughter and declared dinner a disaster. When our kids see that sometimes it's okay to just laugh it off and move on, it frees their mind and energy for the really important things.
These are just a few things that will make a big difference in freeing our kids from the pressure of perfect. What things have you discovered that help your kids with this?