As a parent of a dancer, it's likely you've heard the phrases "I'm not good enough" or "It isn't perfect" come out of your dancer's mouth.
In fact, the art form of dance lends itself to the pursuit of perfection.
Your dancer hears his or her teacher say "Again, it's not right" over and over again in class. As a result, your dancer strives to make that combination perfect. And when it's not perfect, your dancer can take an emotional hit especially when being 'criticized' on a regular basis.
Now we (as parents) all know that perfection doesn't exist. Or at least in theory we do. But given the environment your dancer is living in many hours of each week, it's easy for him or her to constantly strive for it.
And that's not a bad thing. At least if perfectionism is managed properly. That striving to be perfect can cause your dancer to work harder and push him/herself to be the best version of him/herself.
It's when the pursuit of this perfection leads to unhealthy habits and unrealistic expectations that makes perfectionism detrimental to your dancer's mental health.
So as a parent, what can you do to help your dancer manage his or her perfectionistic tendencies?
Here are 5 tips to help you support your perfectionist dancer:
Tip 1: Don't compare your dancer to other dancers.
This one goes without saying but I'll say it anyway. Make sure you aren't comparing your dancer to the dancers around him or her. What might feel like a harmless statement ("Look at Ava's turns. Aren't they beautiful?") can turn into a chance for your own dancer to make judgments about him or herself. And the one thing dancers do already is compare, compare, compare.
Tip 2: Praise your dancer's effort and not the outcome.
When your dancer is trying to learn something new or is working hard on a turn that he or she can't seem to get, it's easy to focus on the actual outcome. You might hear yourself saying things like "Oh, you'll get your fouetté turns soon enough. Keep trying." But without realizing it, you are putting emphasis on the outcome which your dancer can't control. Instead, try praising effort along the way. Statements like "I saw you working hard in class today" or "I'm really impressed with how much extra time you put into practicing your turns" can hit in a much softer way. Again, it's not about the outcome of getting a specific skill...it's about the effort along the way.
Tip 3: Remind your dancer of what's within his or her control.
There are many things your dancer can't control in his or her journey. How his/her dance teacher acts or responds to dancers in class, how the other dancers behave in class, or whether he/she gets the lead are just a few of the things not within your dancer's control. Most perfectionist dancers are focused on all the things they cannot control. And that can be a vulnerable position to live in. Remind your dancer that he or she can only control his/her effort, how well he/she prepares for class, if he/she warms up properly, etc.
Tip 4: Help your dancer set realistic goals.
If your dancer is going into Nationals with the mindset of "I have to win or else" he or she is probably going to feel some disappointment if he/she doesn't finish in first place. Again, you want your dancer to strive for greatness, but having a discussion about what are realistic goals versus unrealistic goals is important for your dancer's mental health. Can he/she set some big reach goals? Absolutely! But make sure he/she is also setting some goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic/relevant, and timely). Getting first is a goal that is outside your dancer's control (see Tip 3). But hitting his/her routine or scoring slightly higher is something that is more realistic and attainable.
Tip 5: Model healthy self-talk.
Many perfectionist dancers get their perfectionistic traits from...you guessed it...one of their parents! Makes sure you are modeling health self-talk. If you're constantly modeling "That wasn't good enough" talk or behavior, your dancer will pick up on this. If you make a mistake or do something wrong, try to talk through some healthier self-talk. Instead of saying "I'm so stupid. I should know better than to leave the eggs on the stove and walk away" you might rephrase that to "Oops. I burned the eggs. Everyone makes mistakes. Next time I'll remember not to walk away when the eggs are cooking." Your dancers (children) are always listening. Make sure what they hear is healthy self-talk.
Again, perfectionism is a great trait to have as a dancer. But when you notice your dancer getting 'stuck' because he/she's not the best or things aren't right, it can lead to unhealthy habits and behaviors. The goal is to take your dancer's perfectionism and use it as a super power by supporting him/her in the best way possible.
Do you have a dancer who is a perfectionist? Share some things you notice your dancer do in the comments below. Let's start a discussion.