Inspire Academic Improvement By Resisting The “Perfection Infection”

It happens often. I bet you do it. I totally understand and yet I hope my insights encourage you to stop. Curious? Keep reading.

When you empty your children’s backpacks or go through their school folders looking at their daily work and returned tests, do you ask, “How did the other kids do?”

As soon as we ask, we’ve decreased our children’s security. Suddenly they feel as if ita’s not really about doing their best, even if that’s what we said as they headed to school. No, in reality, it appears we care about how they stand in comparison to their peers. But is that wise? Necessary?

For example, your son may have earned a 92% and been thrilled because the test was challenging. When you ask, “How did the other kids do?” you imply the 92% is only good if it’s a better score than most of his peers earned.

Your daughter may have earned a low score and she’s already feeling badly about it. She’s not looking forward to you finding out and now you’ve put additional pressure on her. Now she may feel the score is even worse because it’s among the lowest in her class. Having to admit this to us may not motivate her to do better next time.

Constantly comparing our kids to others causes our encouragement to “do your best” and “concentrate on yourself; don’t worry about others.” to fall on deaf ears. They’ll stop believing us. They may get angry. These comparisons violate the key identity that they’re unique miracles. Comparing them can negatively affect peer relationships.

Comparing our kids is also one of the things that causes them to think we’re never satisfied and we expect them to be perfect. Jill Savage and I wrote, in No More Perfect Kids: “The more we compare, the higher our expectations climb. There it is: the Perfection Infection.” (p. 37) and “If they compare, or if they hear us comparing, they may feel inadequate and without realizing it, the Perfection Infection can raise its ugly head.” (p. 184) Among other negatives, perfectionism can paralyze our kids and make it less likely they’ll take risks and aim high.

Asking our children how they did is often appropriate. We may not always have to ask. Sometimes wait to see if they bring it up when they want to. We must ask about more than their scores and grades. If we don’t, they’ll think that’s all we care about. This can cause them to put their security in their grades and performances. This is never a good idea. For suggested questions to ask that are often much more important than “How did you do?” check out this relevant video.

When we do ask about their grades, rather than asking how other kids did, we can often follow up with one or both of these questions:

  • How satisfied are you with that grade?
  • Is there anything you’ll do differently when studying and preparing for a similar assignment/test?

Now we can follow up appropriately. If they’re satisfied with a grade lower than we would have preferred, let’s look for teachable moments to discuss why we think they’re capable of more. (But, be careful that they don’t assume perfection is what we want.) The same thing is true if they’re hard on themselves when their grades were excellent and they’re disappointed because they weren’t perfect. We might be able to talk about it immediately. Or, look for an opportunity to bring it up later. If they’re satisfied and so are we, let them know! This will increase their security in themselves and in us.

If our children claim they want to study differently and prepare differently, we can remind them and help them as best we can.

Conversations after school about school are something to take seriously. I trust these ideas will help you successfully get your children to share with you. I know you want to know how things are going. Good for you!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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