Perfectionism in Gifted Girls

brave not perfect

How can we implement strategies to counteract the ramifications of perfectionist tendencies within our gifted and highly able girls?

Procrastination can often take precedence when your self-worth is wrapped up in your performance and a fear of failing to achieve the high standards you set yourself increases anxiety.

Theories show perfectionism is a construct with multiple dimensions that can have positive or negative effects on our girls.

Adaptive perfectionism focuses on high achievement, high standards and perseverance and is considered the “healthy” type, while experiencing difficulty doing things is known as maladaptive perfectionism and is considered “unhealthy”.

People experiencing maladaptive perfectionism are unable to be fully satisfied because what they do is never good enough in their own eyes. This can lead to increased frustration and anxiety – often spiraling into catastrophising and diminishing their self-concept.

How can we integrate strategies with our girls encouraging them to be brave, not perfect? How do we create a culture where bravery and resilience are fostered through learning and growing?

How can we teach our students to modify their high standards to their different situations and also consider their strengths and limitations? How can we teach them to balance their thinking and help them to develop a positive sense of self – independent of their performance?

  • Ensure school culture always promotes personal growth and a growth mindset and clear messages are communicated about the unrealistic expectations of perfection.
  • Encourage students who demonstrate tendencies of perfectionism to be aware of their anxiety and when they might be putting too much pressure on themselves.
  • Model failure and demonstrate strategies to work through disappointment, including setting realistic, short-term goals to achieve your high standards based on the time and resources available.
  • Provide opportunities for students to take risks and fail in an environment they feel safe in, surrounded by people they feel supported by. Focus on effort and celebrate personal victories to help redefine the meaning of success with an emphasis on learning and growth.
  • Model positive, realistic self-talk that matches your goals and helps to combat when your body might be feeling anxious.
  • Demonstrate breathing techniques and the positive effect of mindfulness to show students how to counteract feelings of anxiety as they occur and better ways to approach a task.

Not all perfectionism is unhealthy. Adaptive perfectionism can lead to the pursuit of excellence by setting achievable, and reasonably high personal goals and standards, which helps students undertake new ventures and take risks.

To read more about perfectionism in gifted students:

Sylvia Rimm on Perfectionism in the Gifted – An Interview by SENG’s Editor-in-Chief, Michael Shaughnessy (

National Association for Gifted Children – Perfectionism (