Maybe your child falls under this category of child perfectionism. Maybe they need to have ‘things a certain way’, don’t do well with a change in schedule, and have racing thoughts and worries. Don’t go worrying yourself, this is actually more common than you may think.
The majority of kids that I work with are dealing with some form of perfectionism or anxiety. Its super important to rule out autism spectrum disorder when you may have concerns around your child’s inability to be flexible, change with routine, or ‘go with the flow.’ Also, maybe your child is lining toys up in rows or has a fascination with letters, numbers, or colors. This is known as Hyperlexia, which falls on the spectrum diagnoses. Making sure to rule out autism is my first tip!
Next tip is to get a medical evaluation done to rule out PANDAS (pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with strep). In simpler terms, PANDAS is a strep causing disorder that results in OCD-like symptoms, mood swings, and sometimes even ADHD-like symptoms. The main symptom however is perfectionism or OCD. PANDAS symptoms do not evolve gradually, they sort of pop up over night. Rule this out!
So maybe you’ve ruled out both autism and PANDAS and your child is still showing signs of anxiety and perfectionism. There are absolutely ways to handle these types of symptoms. A few of my favorite are below:
- Mindfulness- Mindfulness is simply being in the present moment. When your child is having racing thoughts, obsessions, and anxiety-like experiences, they are not in the present moment; they are actually what I refer to as ‘living in their heads.’ Mindfulness is simply acknowledging our thoughts, waving to them, and not entertaining them, by turning our attention back to the present moment. I like to use the imagery of clouds when explaining this. Have your child picture their thoughts on clouds and instead of engaging with them, simply wave to the cloud and allow it to continue passing through. Have them then turn their attention back to the present moment through focusing on their breathing, counting, or simply through distraction.
- Distress Tolerance Boxes- These boxes are great for helping children get out of their heads and into the present moment. Fill up a shoe box with 2-3 objects that engage each of the five senses. For instance, playdoh, essential oils, natural hard candies, a picture of their dog, and headphones. When you notice your child becoming overwhelmed or anxious, simply hand them the box and allow them to calm down through using their senses.
- Detective Thinking- This one is best used with older children who can think a bit more abstractly. Have your child pick a thought that they frequently have. For instance, ‘I am not good enough.’ Have them be a detective for a moment and find reasons that challenge this statement. Make a list of the reasons why they aregood enough. Help them make this list. Do this whenever you notice them repeating themselves, asking worrying questions over and over, or being hard on themselves.
- Incorporate Flexibility- Typically anxious worry worms are pretty dedicated to a routine. They love routine and schedules. While this can be extremely positive, in many cases, if the routine is switched or tweaked, it can throw the child into a tantrum or anxious state. I recommend writing out their schedule for the day, use some pictures next to each task if you can, to create a visual for them as well. Ever so often, switch something on their schedule and notify them about a day in advance. Something as simple as brushing their hair before they brush their teeth. Start small. Couple this with some coping skills for them to use when they experience anxiety due to the changes. Model deep breathing, count with them, or even use your distress tolerance box. Incorporate flexibility wherever you can.