Any parent wants to protect their child.
Helping them navigate the cushioned environment of nursery, infant and primary school, into the more judgemental and harsher senior school, then out into the vicious world beyond tests the strength and tenacity of the strongest of us parents.
And Covid made the whole experience many times more difficult.
A few years ago my second child was preparing for her LGS exams in Turkey where we lived at the time. I could see daily how the stress took its toll on her.
She was in school from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. And then again on Saturday til about 2pm. She had to sit an exam at least once every single week. Sometimes twice a week. Her results were mapped out against everyone else in her class. And every other kid across the region as a whole.
She was expected to continue studying in the evenings. And right through the weekends. This is all in preparation for one single three hour exam that took place in the June.
She was 12 years old.
She was getting completely stressed.
As her mum I wanted to remove every bit of stress from her young shoulders and give her back her carefree childhood.
As her mum I wanted her to learn that life is tough, and the sooner she understood that, the better.
As her mum I wanted her to rise to the challenge and put her all into doing her best and pushing her boundaries.
As her mum I wanted her to understand the concept of failure, and to know that to fail is not to not succeed.
As her mum I wanted to prepare her for the highly competitive nature of the outside world, and that she has to learn to take the knocks.
As her mum I wanted to wrap her up in cotton wool and shield her from every nasty comment and jibe that was aimed at her.
The exam system here in Turkey did not sit well with me – it requires a perfectionism that I actively work against in my coaching and therapy work.
It penalises you for getting wrong answers (taking points away). It is fully based on multiple choice so does not encourage critical, outside the box thinking – both essential elements that any individual needs to navigate their way to success.
The competition is significant, and that in itself is no bad thing. In business we need competition to keep ourselves sharp. But this is comparative competition, whereby your progress is measured by the number of points you get in comparison to someone else, rather than the personal progress you are making.
The exam has since come and gone, and is now no more than a distant memory. My daughter survived, and has come out the other side stronger for the experience.
I attempt with all my children to help them tolerate the stress, and, measure and (kind of) celebrate their own progress without worrying about the results of others. They are simple, common sense skills that anyone can learn, navigating the ‘anxiety’ and perfectionism pot holes that seem to pepper childrens’ road to adulthood these days. Teaching children how to ‘manage’ anxiety fuelled by perfectionism is not the best route – instead, teaching them not to create anxiety in the first place is a much more powerful option.
You don’t have to be 12 years old to learn these new skills. You can be 22, 42, even 62. Perfectionism is a habit that that you developed, and unless you are a precision engineer or brain surgeon is not necessary in your day to day life.
What might be perfect one day, may resonate completely differently the next day. The most important element is to be true and authentic to you as an individual. To be perfectly imperfect is the perfect goal!