They are everywhere; in our kids’ pencil cases, on our desks and on every school booklist. It’s becoming easier than ever to erase mistakes without consequence. But this seemingly harmless tool could be doing more harm than good, leading our children down a path of unrealistic expectations of perfectionism. Let’s look at how erasers are contributing to perfectionism in our children, and offer tips on how to address it.
What is Perfectionism?
Perfectionism is an unhealthy and exaggerated attitude towards achieving perfection. In kids, this can often come out as an impatience with their mistakes, and giving up when things get tough. Cognitive-behavioral theorists consider perfectionism a result of children’s experiences in their early years, and specifically how they engage with parents and caregivers.
Is Perfectionism in Children Being Encouraged Through Erasers?
Erasers, used for “fixing” mistakes, are seen by some as contributing to perfectionism in children. When a child erases their mistake, it unconsciously reinforces the belief that things should be “perfect” or “error-free”. If a child is only allowed to make corrections once, they begin to believe that their work should be right the first time. This can lead to the development of excessively high standards, and impact their self-esteem. Parents and teachers can address this in a variety of ways, such as focusing on the child’s effort and progress rather than the “perfect” outcome.
How Can We Avoid Perfectionism in Children Through Erasers and Other Means?
One way to avoid perfectionism in children is to teach them that mistakes are part of the learning process. Teach kids to be “Mistake Makers” and give them the emotional and growth mindset tools to bounce forward when they make a mistake.
Children should understand that making mistakes helps them learn and grow. In fact, research has found that the brain grows when we make a mistake, so corrections should be made with kindness and patience. Encourage your child to look at mistakes as a learning opportunity instead of a personal failure. Emphasize their effort over perfection by celebrating small steps along the way, such as reflecting on improvement, or adjusting goals if necessary. Lastly, provide your own examples of when you have succeeded despite challenges or difficulties you faced.
Our Mistake Maker 2 day workshop teaches kids all of these things. Fiona Perrella, founder of Strength Heroes, also recently did an interview on ABC Radio, which gives a little more insight into their philosophy and programs we offer.
Top 5 tips for Parents to Address Unhealthy Perfectionism in Children
Parents can address unhealthy perfectionism by:
- Focusing on process goals rather than outcome goals. Process goals are linear and incremental, meaning they result in a gradually improving level of competence or skill.
- Make sure your child knows that you will love and accept them no matter what the outcome is.
- Remind your child to be kind to themselves and to focus on their efforts rather than the results.
- Lastly, remind them that mistakes do not define who they are, it’s how they respond to mistakes that matters most.
- Read more about how to support kids read How to develop resilience by avoiding labelling your children.