When Perfectionism Interferes with Schoolwork

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Perfectionism is pursuing an ideal rather than a reality. Perfectionism may be a type of anxiety, some experts believe that the pursuit of "perfect" is itself an anxiety disorder. Other experts believe that perfectionism is a symptom of an anxiety disorder, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Either way, when a student worries constantly about whether their work is "good enough" it can interfere with their abilities to succeed in school.

    Projects may not be handed in because they didn't live up to the standards set by the student, anxiety and depression can develop when anything less than an "A" is seen as failure. At the same time, we want our children to be their best. Parents must somehow find a balance between striving for excellence and accepting nothing less then "perfect."

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    Sometimes perfectionism can lead to underachievement. A student would rather not try than to try and have something fall short of perfect. Students may procrastinate or not complete work at all. Or they may develop physical symptoms, complaining of headaches or stomachaches that result from the constant worrying.

    Perfectionists set their own high standards and often these standards are impossible to live up to, especially on a consistent basis. Instead, perfectionism can lead to underachievement. A student would rather not try than to try and have something fall short of perfect. Students may procrastinate or not complete work at all. Or they may develop physical symptoms, complaining of headaches or stomachaches that result from the constant worrying.

    Parents can help to alleviate some of the anxiety caused by perfectionism:

    • Talk about the difference between "the best" and "your best." Always tell your child you want them to do "their best" on a test or school project.
    • Discuss the importance of making mistakes and learning from your mistakes. Share stories from your own life to let your children know there is no reason to be ashamed of making a mistake. Let them know mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow. (There are also many biographies, such as Thomas Edison that discuss how mistakes led to important discoveries or great accomplishments.)
    • Explain routines and schedules are important, but flexibility is just as important. Talk about days when you should adhere to a schedule to accomplish tasks, but how you must also be able to adapt and adjust on days when the schedule is not possible.
    • Practice problem-solving with your child, letting them know there is always more than one way to solve a problem. Help him or her to let go of rigid thinking and look at many different options.
    • Share your own successes with your child, but also show your mistakes, letting your child know every person has both successes and failures.
    • Help your child to find a balance in completing school work. If your child is studying a great deal of time to make sure he or she only gets an "A+" in classes, discuss the importance of balance, interjecting fun activities into daily routines. If your child is hardly studying at all, underachieving rather than trying and failing, work with him or her to accept doing their best as a success rather than looking at the grade.


    If you find perfectionism and anxiety are interfering with your child's ability to do well in school or to participate in social activities or is complaining of physical symptoms of anxiety such as headaches or stomachaches, it may be time to talk with your doctor or a mental health professional to help your child find a balance.

    For more information:

  • Ten Strategies to Tame Chronic Worrying

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    Anxiety - School Phobia

    Anxiety - Tips to Help Manage Back to School Anxiety

    Helping Children Deal with Anxiety at School

Published On: August 18, 2009