Dare Not to Compare
It's natural to want to know how your child is doing in relation to her classmates or even siblings -- after all, you've probably been making comparisons since she was born. But try not to talk about it in front of her. When you say things like "Your painting was the best at the open house," or "Jamie learned how to ride her bike without training wheels when she was your age," you're simply fueling your kid's desire to do things perfectly. Sure, you need to know if your kid is on track developmentally, but save your comments for your child's teacher or pediatrician.
Keep It Real
If your child thinks she should be able to get the hang of a sport or grasp a new math concept the first time out, she's setting herself up for disappointment, says Dr. Borba. Use your family's experiences to help her understand that even people she admires weren't always as good at something as they are now. For instance, encourage your kid to ask her T-ball coach how long he's been playing the game. Or talk to the dentist about how many years of school it took to get his degree. Also pick up a few kid-oriented biographies at the library. Two good picks to read along with your child: You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! and Who Was Walt Disney?
Finger-painting, Legos, Play-Doh, sand art, and other open-ended projects are ideal for helping young perfectionists chill out. Because there's no right or wrong result, these activities foster something that's important for all children to learn: There are usually many different ways to do things.
Point Out Your Own Imperfections
If you tell a kindergartner that he can't be perfect, he'll take it personally. He doesn't realize that you mean no one can be perfect. To help him understand, note your own goof-ups, like when you accidentally spill the juice or forget to put something on your grocery-shopping list. "It's helpful for kids to see that everyone makes errors," says Dr. Stavinoha. Then model how to deal with your gaffes because children will watch your reaction. "Rather than getting upset about something that went wrong, convey to your child that mistakes are just part of learning," says Dr. Grolnick. "Point out what you could have done differently so it won't happen again." It will take a while, but eventually your child will copy your reaction and not get so flustered or frustrated when something doesn't go the way he'd planned.
Originally published in the November 2011 issue of Parents magazine.