Perfectionist children

Written by: Dr. Hui Long Kit

Many parents complain about their children being careless in their actions and messy in their homework. However, if a child is too meticulous and even perfectionistic, it may not necessarily be a good thing.

Many 2 to 3-year-old children love playing with toy cars, especially boys. However, some boys don’t enjoy pushing toy cars back and forth. Instead, they prefer arranging multiple toy cars in a straight line or grouping cars with the same color and shape together. They cannot tolerate even one or two cars being out of line or not sorted correctly, insisting on having everything neat and perfect. Most of these children have meticulous thinking but rigid and inflexible personalities, and they may possibly have “Autistic Spectrum Disorder” (ASD).

When children start reading and writing in primary school, some diligent and hardworking students will showcase beautiful handwriting in their exercise books, with each stroke as neat as computer printing. However, upon closer examination, one may notice that they press their pen or pencil very hard, causing the ink or lead to bleed onto the next page. Even if they make a small mistake in writing a word, they will erase everything and start over ─ this may indicate some “obsessive traits.” As they grow into adolescents, they may even exhibit symptoms of “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder” (OCD), such as repetitive handwashing, excessively long baths, or constant checking of objects. Severe cases can significantly impact daily life and social interactions, requiring medical diagnosis and treatment.

The tendency of perfectionism usually stems from anxiety. Patients’ thoughts often lean towards catastrophizing, where even neutral things appear severe in the eyes of an anxious child. For example, if a child makes a mistake in their homework, they might worry about being scolded by the teacher, losing points, and ultimately getting worse grades. The more they dwell on these thoughts, the worse they become, leading them to feel compelled to make everything perfect, resulting in a very difficult and exhausting life.

Perfectionist children lead particularly tiring lives, and as time goes on, they may become unhappy or even experience depression. Therefore, when parents observe their children becoming more and more serious, they shouldn’t simply assume that they are just growing up, maturing, or having a certain personality. Instead, they should pay attention to the emotional symptoms that might be present.