Less Than Perfect

“We just want her to work up to her potential. She’s a gifted student and in honors and AP classes, but she seems to have lost her drive. Seems the more we talk with her, the less she does,” said the forty-something dad wearing a crisp, professionally-starched dress shirt and shiny, polished Italian shoes.

Courtney rolled her eyes and sighed.

“What part of that annoys you the most Courtney?”

“Their nagging doesn’t work. Their lectures don’t inspire me, instead they rob me of my drive. They think I have to be perfect to be successful. I know I can’t be perfect, so I don’t want to even try.”

“What about the ‘P-word’ – Potential?”

“It’s so annoying and they use it too much!”

I smiled at her parents, “Students, especially in middle school and high school grow weary of their parents comparing them to other students,  their previous accomplishments or perceived capabilities that we call potential. It’s like a swear word to them. I know we mean well, but it backfires.”

“So what are we supposed to do? Just let her fail?” asked Courtney’s mom, “I’ve been checking online everyday and she’s missing twelve assignments in her classes, and the year is coming to a close. Finals are next week!”

“I like to contrast perfectionism -which is fear-driven, with high-achievement which comes from confidence and capability. Perfectionism has a fear of failure and assigns permanence to anything less than stellar work. Whereas high achievement puts the emphasis on the effort, the character and the willingness to try. It’s process vs. product. Perfectionism is pushed by fear. High achievement is pulled by the willingness to try and the courage to fail, knowing that even in ‘failure’ we can learn,” I explained.


“Mom, they are MY grades not yours. Let me earn the grades I deserve. You don’t have to rescue me.”

Her mom, not convinced, shifted in her seat, “So what can I do differently?”

“Let her own her grades. She can update you daily on what she’s doing, but that’s her taking initiative vs. you interrogating and checking online. Here are five things you might try to help you be Less Than Perfect.”

1. Emphasize the process of learning and becoming a better person, more than simply mastering the material.

2. Model and talk about “good enough” at times. Not everything has to be perfect.

3. Let your child know that you believe in her even though her performance isn’t what you expected.

4. Ask, “So you didn’t do as well as you hoped for, what did you learn from it?”

5. Have realistic expectations so she doesn’t feel the need to please you with perfect performance, or take shortcuts like cheating.

I’m working with quite a few students who have high levels of anxiety, especially at this time of the year. We want them to do their best, but sometimes doing more for your child may mean doing less. Watch this short video on becoming more relaxed as a parent and learning to be Less Than Perfect.

Less Than Perfect Parent

I have an evidenced-based coaching program that helps children and teens be less anxious and be more confident and capable academically, socially and athletically. Contact me for information at          805-376-3500 or tim@parentscoach.org