Helping Perfectionism in Students

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Perfectionism is a trait characterized by setting high standards and being critical when these standards are not met. It’s not a simple concept but rather a complex one with two main aspects: perfectionistic strivings (high standards) and perfectionistic concerns (worries about mistakes and perceived performance gaps). While striving for excellence can lead to positive outcomes, excessive concerns can result in negative consequences, especially in educational settings.

The Dual Nature of Perfectionism

Perfectionistic strivings often relate to high achievements and positive outcomes like good grades and personal satisfaction. However, perfectionistic concerns can lead to anxiety, depression, and lower overall well-being. This dual nature means that perfectionism can either be a motivating force or a source of significant stress, depending on how it’s managed.

Understanding these dynamics is crucial for parents and school mental health professionals. Recognizing when a student’s drive for perfection is becoming harmful can help provide the right support and interventions.

Perfectionism in Schools: A Double-Edged Sword

Research shows mixed outcomes for perfectionistic strivings in schools. Students with high standards tend to perform well academically, but those with high concerns about making mistakes often struggle more. The combination of high strivings and high concerns is particularly problematic, leading to lower academic achievement and increased stress.

Measuring Perfectionism in Students

Traditionally, general perfectionism scales have been used to study this trait. However, recent research suggests that domain-specific measures, like the new Study-related Perfectionism Scale (SPS), provide more accurate insights. The SPS focuses specifically on perfectionism in academic settings. It helps identify students who set high academic standards but also worry excessively about their performance.

The Study-Related Perfectionism Scale (SPS)

The SPS is a short, reliable tool designed to measure maladaptive perfectionism in students. It assesses both high academic standards and concerns about performance. Research has shown that the SPS is effective across different school levels, from adolescents to college students.

Using the SPS, educators, and counselors can identify students at risk of maladaptive perfectionism and provide targeted interventions. This is crucial because early detection can prevent the negative outcomes associated with perfectionistic concerns, such as anxiety, depression, and academic burnout.

Supporting Students with Perfectionistic Tendencies

For parents and school mental health professionals, supporting students with perfectionistic tendencies involves:

  1. Promoting a Growth Mindset: Encourage students to see mistakes as learning opportunities rather than failures.
  2. Setting Realistic Goals: Help students set achievable goals and break tasks into manageable steps.
  3. Providing Emotional Support: Offer a safe space for students to express their concerns and fears.
  4. Teaching Stress Management Techniques: Introduce practices like mindfulness and relaxation exercises to help students cope with stress.
  5. Encouraging Balanced Activities: Ensure students have time for hobbies and relaxation, not just academics.

The Role of School Mental Health Professionals

School mental health professionals play a crucial role in addressing perfectionism. They can use tools like the SPS to screen for maladaptive perfectionism and develop intervention programs. These professionals can also work with teachers to create a supportive classroom environment that minimizes stress and promotes well-being.

What insights do you have? Let us know in the comments!

  1. How can schools implement programs to help students manage perfectionistic tendencies?
  2. What are some effective ways for parents to support children who exhibit signs of maladaptive perfectionism?


Perfectionism in students is a complex issue that requires a nuanced approach. By understanding the dual nature of perfectionism and using tools like the SPS, parents and school mental health professionals can help students manage their perfectionistic tendencies. This support is essential in fostering both academic success and overall well-being.

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