“For though we walk in the flesh,
we do not war according to the flesh.
For the weapons of our warfare are
not carnal but mighty in God for pull-
ing down strongholds, casting down
arguments and every high thing that
exalts itself against the knowledge of
God, bringing every thought into
captivity to the obedience of Christ.”
—2 Corinthians 10:3-5
When my daughter was in 7th grade she got her first B on her report card. At that moment she set her jaw, stomped her little foot, and determined that would never happen again. And it didn’t. From that time on she was a straight-A student. Unfortunately, that perfect GPA came with many years of stress and anxiety, and many tears at the dining room table. It wasn’t until her sophomore year at New Saint Andrews College that her advisor finally reached her heart and helped her tear down the idols of perfectionism that caused her so much stress. Now at 27 years old, she has, by God’s grace, learned how to balance excellence with contentment.
My experience as both her mother, and as a teacher at classical Christian schools for the past 23 years, has shown me just how difficult it can be when a child hangs on to the idol of perfectionism.To graduate students who think clearly, discern wisely, and articulate winsomely, good classical Christian schools have high standards. The temptation for students toward perfectionism—to put their worth in their achievements—can create high levels of anxiety and self-inflicted pressure in both our children and their families. What should a parent do?
You can start by teaching your children through normal daily events like Scripture reading, conversations, bedtime stories, and personal example the following principles:
1. Find identity in Christ alone. Teach your children that they are made in the image of God and in Him they find out who they are and why they matter. He has equipped them to do His good work. Through this good work they will bring honor and glory to Him. Read the Bible verses at bedtime that remind them of this, and tell them again when you talk about their day. It’s fine to be repetitive—even as adults we need encouragement through reminders of what we might already know.
2. The difference between striving for excellence and becoming a perfectionist begins with the heart. When students strive for excellence they are working hard to bring honor and glory to God. They can be content with the outcome of their work. When they are being perfectionistic, they are often seeking honor for themselves. This leads them to be unhappy if they do not perform as desired. We can help our children manage anxiety by teaching them to do their best work and leave the outcome to God.
3. Accept God-given strengths and weaknesses. It is important to point out that God has created them with many different gifts and abilities and that He does not make mistakes. Each child has been created just as He wants them to be. Therefore, they should not begrudge the gifts He has bestowed on them or covet the gifts He has given to others.
4. Don’t make comparisons with others. Rather, expect your best work, and then accept the outcome of that work. This means teaching kids to be thankful in the realization that some children will get As and others will get Cs while putting in the same amount of effort.
5. Learn these principles before temptation comes. Ideally, start having these conversations when your child is in the young grammar stage, when it is easier to capture their hearts and train their affections.
Teach these lessons to your children (and live by them yourself) to help them avoid confusing perfectionism with high standards and striving for excellence. Keep in view the ultimate goals: for every child to know who they are, to know whose they are, and to bring honor and glory to Christ throughout their lives. ✤
JANINE WARMOUTH, 3rd grade teacher at The Ambrose School, Meridian, Idaho