A (from what I can tell) somewhat common contributing factor to children growing up with a lack of self-confidence, or being people-pleasers, is parents who were very strict, perfectionist, and/or would constantly pick out flaws with no mention of things well-done. While it seems obvious that the solution is to not be those things, how can a high self-standard of work (e.g. not mowing a lawn and leaving large patches undone, or leaving a pile of dishes after cleaning the kitchen) be encouraged without being a perfectionist, or appearing to only be focusing on the negatives? I wouldn't be wanting everything to be done as well as it can possibly be, but for everything to be fully completed.

For example, the child returning having done the lawns only to be greeted with "You didn't do that patch over there, go back and finish it" seems like the sort of negative focus that will result in the mentioned issues over time.

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    I think this could be very age-dependent - do you have a specific age range in mind? Nov 12, 2021 at 14:52
  • Please beware of assumptions. Almost everyone I know lacks self-confidence for one reason or another, even the most accomplished. Self-confidence and self-discipline are two different things, it’s different manifestations. I’d say you’re asking about self-discipline. Nov 13, 2021 at 13:49
  • @Isaac Welcome to Parenting.SE! Thank you for posting a great and thoughtful question. It made me think... I apologize about the frame challenge in my answer below. My answer is 80% complete (not fully complete). :) I hope it will inspire others to provide better answers! Nov 13, 2021 at 15:02

2 Answers 2


Teach the child what it means when the job is, say, 10%, 50%, 80% or almost 100% done. And then teach the child where, when, how and to which percent completion to do various tasks.

Regarding this: "I wouldn't be wanting everything to be done as well as it can possibly be, but for everything to be fully completed":
Do not teach the child to do all tasks to near 100% completion. First of all, that's impossible in real life. And second, that’s the message that encourages perfectionism and anxiety. There is plenty of research done on this topic, please see below for a few examples.

In my personal experience, I teach my kids (and myself) to be flexible in the degree of task completion. I do not fully complete all tasks, on purpose, and not because of laziness. I point out such examples to the kids, and explain why. I teach them to be flexible about task completion. This patient work on purposeful partial completion bears fruit, in that the children are growing up with a more healthy (lower) level of perfectionism than they would have done without this intervention.

A side note: I am now less of a perfectionist myself thanks to this process.

Another side note: of course, some tasks must be done to 100% completion - don't get me wrong. But relax a bit about those dishes and that lawn patch! :)


The findings suggest that parent perfectionism and overcontrol, together, may represent a specific pathway of risk for the development of anxiety disorders in children.

Affrunti, N.W., Woodruff-Borden, J. Parental Perfectionism and Overcontrol: Examining Mechanisms in the Development of Child Anxiety. J Abnorm Child Psychol 43, 517–529 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-014-9914-5 : https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10802-014-9914-5

Findings from these studies are beginning to implicate perfectionism as an underlying process that may contribute broadly to the development of anxiety and depression in a pediatric population.

Affrunti NW, Woodruff-Borden J. Perfectionism in pediatric anxiety and depressive disorders. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev. 2014 Sep;17(3):299-317. doi: 10.1007/s10567-014-0164-4. PMID: 24481881 : https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24481881/

The anxious rearing model of perfectionism development proposes that children develop perfectionism in response to parental worry about their children being imperfect and parental behaviors such as overprotection from mistakes and focus on the negative consequences of mistakes. [...] Results support the perfectionistic rearing model and parental perfectionistic behaviors' impact on children's observed and self-reported SOP and task performance.

Mitchell JH, Broeren S, Newall C, Hudson JL. An experimental manipulation of maternal perfectionistic anxious rearing behaviors with anxious and non-anxious children. J Exp Child Psychol. 2013 Sep;116(1):1-18. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2012.12.006. Epub 2013 Feb 15. PMID: 23419410 : https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23419410/

  • Just came across this post, which I must have seen, but forgot about when posting the answer above. Sorry about the frame challenge! Plus, my answer borders on medical advice, and I am not qualified to give such (not an MD, and have not seen you and your child). Feel free to downvote, or comment to improve this answer. But it has not escaped my attention that if I edit the answer on perfectionism, I would be practicing umm... perfectionism. I will just let this one stand or fall, then! HTH. :) Nov 13, 2021 at 14:58
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    I upvoted your answer, because it’s good. My only complaint (and it is a complaint) is that anxiety can simply be genetic. Psychologists used to believe that babies came into the world as tabulae rasae, therefore every problem had its roots in parenting. That’s incorrect. It’s becoming more and more evident that a lot of personality is genetic, and that includes problems of personality. Nov 13, 2021 at 23:39
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    (Oh, and I complain about this all the time, not specifically at you or your answer. When a parent takes credit for a child turning out well, I complain mentally. When they take all the blame for a kid turning out poorly, I "complain" out loud. There is nature and nurture. We don't give nature near enough credit.) Nov 17, 2021 at 22:24
  • Could you give some examples of where you wouldn't complete a task to 100%, and what that would look like? Nov 21, 2021 at 19:38
  • @IsaacMiddlemiss My answer is 80% complete by my standards. :) As far the the kids' tasks go, here are a few examples. The room is clean 50% when the desk is almost empty, but the bookshelves have things scattered on them. The room is 90% clean if it looks good except the single current task (paper cuttings and scissors) are still on the desk. 100% = all cleaned up (obviously). The book is 50% completed when 1/2 of the pages by count have been read (obviously). The dishes are 80% done when roughly 4 out of 5 dishes are completely clean, the the remaining 1 out of 5 is still dirty (obviously). Nov 21, 2021 at 20:14

I don't think there is a "one size fits all" answer for this but in general kids react well to actual need and requirements that they understand that make sense to them. These can be VERY different from your requirements, so it's important to get everyone on the same page.

If any possible, let the natural consequences play out. For example, if the dishes are not done, you can wait until the kid gets hungry and ask "when is dinner?". Then you simply state "sorry, we can't start cooking since there is a pile of dirty dishes in the kitchen that blocks everything". Don't yell, don't blame, don't lecture, just tell them the way it is.

For the lawn, that's a bit more tricky. What are the natural consequences of an un-mowed patch ? It just doesn't look as nice, but the kid might not even notice this so it's entirely in your own perception. If there aren't any natural consequences that make sense to the kid, you need to recede to "because I want it that way" or "because it makes me happy", which are always harder battles to fight. Make sure you pick only the ones that you feel are really important.

... but for everything to be fully completed.

That's not a helpful line of thinking. Everyone's definition of what "fully completed" means varies all over the place. I know, it feels obvious to you, but do NOT assume that it's obvious to your kid (or partner for that matter) the same way. If you want to go this route, you need to discuss the success criteria's and the "why" behind it. Make sure you make this a two way conversation and be prepared to adjust your own frame of mind as well.

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