Reader Question: How Can I Help My Daughter Overcome Her Perfectionism?
My daughter is a perfectionist and I worry about later problems such as eating disorders. She is only 8 and she worries about having to be perfect in school and in her gymnastics program. Also, although it is stereotypical, girl gymnasts seem to have a greater tendency to have problems with eating disorders. I have in the past had issues…my father told me when I was young that if I did not stay thin no one would marry me or love me. So I myself have some pretty twisted views of my own body image. I know I am not fat, but I still see myself as big. I would not say I have a disorder. I eat a lot and do not restrict myself. But I wonder if some of it is genetic. I am also very hard on myself and a perfectionist which seems to go along with eating problems. So I just worry about this passing on to my daughter. I DO NOT talk about any of my self-dissatisfactions with her. I do not say “oh mommy is wearing her fat-jeans today!”, or any other harmful comments. I am now trying not to talk about my grades in front of her and I also let her know that she is amazing and smart and that C in school are still good. But I still wonder if she gets it from me.
First of all, stop feeling guilty. No parent is perfect and overthinking the issue is not going to help. I think it’s great that you are being so careful about what you say around your daughter, but you also need to be concerned about what you do. A friend of mine once asked me, “So telling my daughter that weight doesn’t matter while she sees me berating myself as I weigh every morning probably isn’t good parenting, right?” Bingo.
Regardless of what she said, the very act of weighing herself every day gave her daughter the message that weight is important – so important that it must be monitored on a daily basis. And what kind of message is that sending?
Bottom line: Yes, there is some evidence that perfectionism is genetic. However, I am more concerned about what you are saying to yourself (even outside of the presence of your daughter) than with what you are saying in front of her. I think we can all agree that positive self-talk is important for our daughters. But what about for ourselves?
I urge you to stand in front of the mirror and give yourself a little positive self-talk. If you’ve never checked out Operational Beautiful (http://operationbeautiful.com/), I encourage you to start today with the sticky notes – both for yourself and for your daughter. Why? You deserve a little positive self-talk in your life, and so does your daughter. And for those of us that feel weird saying “I love you” to ourselves in the mirror, leaving sticky notes for our families is an easy way to get a little positive energy flowing our way too.
The best way we can be a positive role model for our children is to be a positive role model for our children. In this case, actions do speak louder than words. And those actions start with you. Kids are smart. Even if you don’t criticize yourself in front of her, I bet she knows just how you feel about yourself. If you are worried about your perfectionism, especially about your views on your body and eating, the best thing you can do for your daughter is to start being kinder to yourself. If she sees that you make mistakes and are okay with it, that goes a long way – much further than saying “That’s okay” to her when she knows you don’t really mean it.
Thank you for sharing your story. I hope this helps you and your daughter.