Our teen is super hard on himself. How do we teach him “imperfect is okay”?

Modeling self-acceptance and teaching emotional regulation goes a long way. Therapists share their perspective on our newest Smart Parenting Sessions.

This answer was written by therapist, Sharon Slate. Wanna join the conversation? Submit your questions

Q: My son Markus is 13 years old. He’s been a dream to be honest. Wonderful kid, sensitive, outgoing, adventurous. The one thing I struggle with is that he is REALLY hard on himself. When he does something wrong he really beats himself up about it and I know he gets that 100% after me. We try to make mistakes in front of him so he knows it’s ok and normal but that hasn’t helped. How do I help him see the importance of being curious and making mistakes along the way rather than being perfect? — Patty, mom of a 13 year old (New York, NY)

A: Hi Patty,

Such a great question! I love that you talk about the importance of being curious as this is a great way to live and learn from our mistakes. The biggest way we can help our kids is by modeling self-acceptance, and acknowledging we are not, and don’t need to be perfect. Kids see what we do in addition to what we say, and as the saying goes “actions speak louder than words.” Kids need to see us make mistakes, repair them and move on with self-compassion.

I am a big advocate of helping our kids, as well as ourselves as parents learn emotional regulation skills. This is just a fancy way of saying, knowing how to deal with our emotions. So with your son, I would be curious if there are fears connected to not being perfect, or at the very least a “worst case scenario” in his mind about what might happen if/when he makes a mistake.

A strategy you can try with him is to help him dig deeper into what he thinks or fears might happen if he makes a mistake. You can start this by asking him “ what might happen if you make a mistake”… and then after he answers continue by asking him “ and then what would happen.” Gently keep asking this until you dig deep enough to get at the root of the fear. Generally speaking there can be an unconscious fear driving these behaviors and once we connect with what the fear is, we can usually come up with a plan to deal with it.

As a recovering perfectionist, this type of curious exploration helped me connect with a core belief about my worth being connected to what I achieve. Once I unearthed this, I was able to use self-compassion skills to help see that this belief was not true, and I am valuable because I am human.

Good Luck!!
Sharon Slate, R.Psych

Written by Tiffany Wen

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