Childhood stress and the impossible pursuit of perfection- Dean - WI

Skip to Content


us as we help raise awareness about mental health.

Published on May 03, 2017

Childhood stress and the impossible pursuit of perfection

To be young again – it’s something adults yearn for. But if they truly realized what they were getting into, some might change their minds. One thing often forgotten is the amount of stress children go through. Recent research suggests the age groups feeling the most stress are the younger ones. And a 2014 study shows the average stress reported by teens exceeds that of adults. Stress can come from virtually anywhere, and in some cases, it’s because of unrealistic expectations.

The need to feel perfect

Competitiveness in kids and the desire to win are nothing new, and while the ambition is commendable, it can impact mental health.

“Some kids are worrying about high expectations of their environment, while others simply have had very little experience with struggle,” says SSM Health psychologist Dr. Kathleen Hipke. “Whatever the case, it takes a tremendous amount of energy to constantly self-monitor to ensure one does not fail.”

Stress is bound to follow. Dr. Hipke says children trying to achieve perfection may struggle with fatigue and irritability. They can have difficulty falling asleep when worrying about the mistakes made in a given day, or anticipating potentially challenging situations the next day.

Learning from adversity

The word “mistake” often has a negative connotation. But a mistake can be a good thing.

“Learning to deal with stress, including one’s own mistakes, in reasonable amounts is what builds resiliency in children,” notes Dr. Hipke. “It helps them build the confidence that they can tolerate the uncomfortable feelings inherent to making mistakes.”

However, Dr. Hipke also points out that chronic and high-level stress and trauma can overwhelm a child’s capacity to cope, which creates a risk for long-term mental health problems.

Teaching kids how to cope

As is the case with many things, a parent’s modeling goes a long way. Dr. Hipke encourages moms and dads to look for opportunities to share when you have made a mistake, what you’ve learned from it, and how you might go forward differently. Even small things can be powerful examples for a child who will see that even grown-ups aren’t perfect.

Dr. Hipke has some other tips for parents, as well:

  • Put your primary focus on your child’s effort, not just their performance.
  • On the flip side of that, when your child is not putting forth effort, don’t try to rescue them. Let them experience the discomfort of receiving feedback so they can decide for themselves how to rectify the situation.
  • When mistakes happen, put emphasis on how the child worked through it. That could mean trying again, increasing effort, making an apology, or simply waiting for the discomfort they feel to pass. All of these things remind a child that mistakes are tolerable.
  • With younger children, “play” with mistake making. For example, take turns drawing animals with your eyes closed so perfection is impossible. It makes imperfection fun for children who tend to be perfectionistic.

Time for Kids & Channel 3

We are proud to partner with WISC-TV Channel 3 on this important initiative.

Visit the Time for Kids section on for more resources on keeping kids healthy!

Related Services

Looking for assistance with your diet and eating habits? Check out the services of:

Mental Health Services

Comprehensive Weight Management Program

Pediatric Dietitian Services

Nutrition Services

Diabetes Management

Living Healthy Program - For Dean Health Plan members

Healthy Partners Program - For Dean Health Plan members

Time for Kids in the News

Recent videos and news articles about Time for Kids, as covered by the media.

Back-to-school mental health phone bank takes calls, WISC-TV, August 31, 2017

Talking about suicide: It's time to step outside your comfort zone,, August 10, 2017

Mom continues son's story to end stigma of mental illness, WISC-TV, July 21, 2017

Striking summer balance: Maintaining healthy schedule for kids, WISC-TV, June 29, 2017

More Coverage
of Dean Medical Group in the News

  • Connect with us on Facebook
  • See us on YouTube
  • Connect with us on LinkedIn

© 2018 Dean Health Plan, Inc. | All rights reserved.

A Member of SSM Health

SSM Health and the infinity symbol are trademarks of SSM Health and its affiliates.