The problem with perfectionism: five tips to help your students

We cherish the fact that a person can shape his own path by strong will and dedication. The circle of excellence is commonly known and has been accepted by students, parents and teachers alike. Often, building a successful career starts with choosing the right university and being admitted to the institution of your choice means obtaining above average grades. In some cases, the path might start as early as pre-school.


As jobs are not available in abundance and as youths live their lives through what is shot and photographed on digital and social media, the pressure to stand out and excel has never been as high as it is today. The reasons for increased depression and anxiety among youths cannot be due to outside factors alone, but can easily arrive from the students themselves. Perfectionism might quickly develop from an obvious personality trait to a real psychological disorder with crippling effects. Here are five tips that will help you better understand and battle perfectionism in school with your students.

1. Raise Awareness

Young people might not be aware that their views are unrealistic, as the pressure to excel in school is constantly coming from several different fronts. The first step is to establish communication in school and create awareness among your pupils by explaining the basic characteristics, signs and causes of perfectionism is crucial for triggering questions in their heads.

You can start by posing simple questions and letting them answer for themselves:
Do I have trouble meeting my own standards?
Do I often feel anxious, depressed or even angry when trying to meet my standards?
Do I procrastinate tasks, because I fear it will never be good enough?

2. Individual Attention – Reading the Signs

As educators you learn to read different character traits that your pupils have. Through that, you are also able to predict the behavioral patterns of individuals. Sarah often asks her teacher why, in a particular task, she didn’t get all the points she needed in order to achieve 100% in her exam rather than the 95% that she did get. This is already a sign of harmful perfectionism. As teachers you have the unique opportunity to recognize the signs early and to discuss them with the pupil and his or her parents.

3. Be Realistic

“Nobody is perfect!” might be true, but it also might sound like an overused phrase. If you want your pupils to believe what you say, you have to convince them of it first. Hundreds of valuable examples can be found online about pictures in magazines being photoshopped. There are countless stories of success about people who failed multiple times before finally getting it right. Show and communicate with your students that life is not about being perfect, but that true personal satisfaction comes when you know you did your best.

4. Gain Perspective

Doing your best is closely connected to what you are able to do in a given place and time. As teachers you will be aware that pupils study and finish assignments for several different subjects at the same time. This is a great opportunity to reevaluate your own expectations and whether you properly coordinate with your colleagues about study workloads. When a pupil is obsessing about “Not being good enough,” help him understand the broader picture so he can learn to appreciate all his efforts.

5. Kind Words and Supportive Relationships

Educators are able to develop and foster a pupil’s personal growth within the boundaries of school. We know that parents play a crucial role in the child’s academic and personal success. Teachers should not presuppose the idea that parents praise their children at home even when it’s evident they deserve it. Do not spare kind words and positive statements. Due to the teacher’s non-biased position, pupils place great trust in what he or she says. By giving praise and encouragement where appropriate, teachers contribute to a pupil’s positive self-attitude. This also strengthens trust in the classroom as pupils will be more likely to turn to his or her teacher when in need.