My son is 14 years old and a type-A perfectionist. Everything in his life has to be absolutely perfect or else he has a nervous meltdown or becomes an irritable mess. We can never be late to a school event. He always has to dress his best. I can never tell my terrible jokes in front of his friends. I just want him to lighten up and enjoy being a kid. If he doesn't relax he'll have gray hair before he finishes high school. What should I do?
Dad of Three -
Hi Dad of Three,
The first thought that popped in my mind is why is he so concerned about being his best? Many children with perfectionistic tendencies have underlying self-esteem and/or anxiety concerns. The irrational thoughts that surround the concerns fuel anxiety to be on time or to dress to impress. When they are validated (i.e. arriving to school exactly on time or getting a compliment at from another student) the cycle is reinforced and will begin all over again with the next irrational thought. At the same time, if arriving even one minute late or wearing mismatched socks leads to an actual or irrationally perceived consequence, this also serves as reinforcement for the irrational thoughts and perfectionistic tendencies.
At the end of the day, your child must acknowledge and accept that it will not be the end of the world if something does not go exactly as planned. The best thing to do as a parent is to note times when something didn't go exactly as planned but worked out in the end. This should be done in a nonchalant, casual way, so that you do not come across like you are poking fun of your child's irrational thinking. Praise your child when they don't overreact to situations that don't go as planned. If your child does overreact but makes it through a situation, reflect on how they did overcome that situation and praise them for making it through.
Anthony Dimitrion, LCSW, RPT, CCPT