Therapist shares tips for helping teens avoid perfectionism rut

The drive to be not just good, but perfect, is driven by a fear of failure, not high standards.

So licensed therapist Jody Baumstein of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's Strong4Life program says the best thing you can do for your child or teenager is to drive home the message that they don't need to be perfect.

"Kids wouldn't strive for it if they didn't feel this intense pressure," Baumstein says. "So take it off the table. Explicitly talk about 'That's not the goal; it's not attainable. That's not where we're trying to go.'"

Baumstein says to focus on the work kids are putting in, not the outcome.

"Talk about the learning," she says. "'What are you getting better at? What are you enjoying?' They get the report card, and instead of focusing on, "Oh, you're so smart; you got all A's,' say, 'I'm proud of how hard you've worked this year.' These are really important differences."

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And, she says, remind kids you love them unconditionally.

"Because if kids think that your love is dependent on what they do, then they will hustle to the point of extreme burnout or hurting themselves," she says. "And anything that even potentially gets in the way of that, they won't do it."

Make sure, she says, you are showing the same level of interest when they are struggling as when they are excelling.

"Do we get excited when they come home with a great grade and we kind of ignore it, or maybe even make them feel not so great about it when they're struggling," Baumstein says.  "These are important moments."

And part of normalizing failure is owning your own mistakes and not being overly critical of yourself in front of your child.

"Help them see that this is not something to be scared of," she says.  "You're not scared of it. You expect it because you fail. You have to humanize yourself a little bit, too. And show, 'I mess up!'"

If you are seeing signs your child or teen is really struggling with perfectionistic tendencies, Baumstein suggests that you trust your instincts.

"You don't have to figure it out alone," she says. "Talk to a licensed mental health professional or even start with your child's pediatrician."

She recommends her program's website,, for more information on perfectionism, healthy ways of coping, and tips on getting your kids to talk about their emotions.

"When we talk about this stuff regularly, it becomes a little bit safer," Baumstein says.