Responsible Decision-Making

Family Resources on Perfectionism Games

Project and Purpose

Students participate in improvisation games that teach strategies for dealing with perfectionism.

Essential Questions

What are some strategies to help us embrace making mistakes?

If this lesson was used in the classroom: Students considered how perfectionism can interfere with get in the way of tasks and activities. In class students participated in several exercises to learn to avoid using perfectionism as an excuse for not attempting or following through with taking action. In groups discussed how to overcome fear or being wrong and using mistakes as learning opportunities.

Getting Ready for the Conversation

Sometimes adolescents will not attempt something for fear of making a mistake, especially in front of others. There are many ways this can manifest itself from only wanting to speak in class if you know the right answer to becoming fearful or angry over a poor grade. This lesson is designed to help explore this issue.

Conversation notes:
It is important for some adolescents to remain mindful that there is a difference between striving for perfection and stiving for excellence. For example, when A-F grading scales became common in schools an A grade was not just for 100%, students who earn an a “A” in a class or on an assignment do not have to be perfect. Students who are focused on perfection may need to be encouraged to make mistakes and taught how to learn from those mistakes.

Tracy Kennedy’s “How to Stop Being a Perfectionist” at Lifehack:

Two articles on issues of perfectionism at Healthy Children:

Constructive Conversation Starters

The first item is for follow-up after participating in class activities.

Describe the activities from class. Did you feel like you are someone who is too focused on being perfect (or not making mistakes)? Why or why not?

How would you describe the difference between “perfection” and “excellence”? Why is it important to understand this difference?

Have you ever not attempted to do something because you were afraid to fail or make a mistake? Describe this situation and explain why not attempting this could be a mistake.

What are some questions you could ask yourself after making a mistake to help you learn from a mistake? Why are these good questions? What will they help you learn?

School to Home Resources on Perfectionism Games


  • A line through the middle of the classroom. This can be created by a natural line (perhaps a line created by tiles) or by using paper or painter’s tape to extend from one end of the room to the other
  • Space in the room for pairs to work and to form a large circle


1. Explain that today’s session will use games to explore the concept of perfectionism.

2. The first game is “Toe the Line.” Point out the line in the room and divide the group in half, each group lining up against a wall facing the line. Tell students that you will make a statement, and if they 100% agree, they will place their toes on the line. If they 100% disagree, they will remain where they are. Any feelings in between may be expressed by standing close to the line or close to the wall. After each statement, you will ask students to find someone near their position on the line to have a 30 second conversation about the statement. When you call “Next!” students will step away and listen for the
next statement.
Statements to use:

  • I only raise my hand to answer a question in class when I know I have the right answer.
  • I don’t like to start a task unless I understand every single step of what we are supposed to do.
  • Starting my homework usually takes me a while.
  • I prefer printing to cursive handwriting.
  • I am usually satisfied with the grades I earn.
  • If I get a poor grade, I get very upset.
  • I tend to work slowly on tests and projects to make sure my work is extremely neat and there are no mistakes.
  • I often start my work over from the beginning if I find a mistake.
  • If I don’t know an answer, I am comfortable guessing.
  • I hate being wrong.

3. Ask students to make a circle (or an oval, depending on the room) and discuss how some of these statements help people recognize if they are perfectionists. Sometimes just knowing others around you feel the same way about perfection can give you some support. Asking for help is very difficult for perfectionists in general, but look who else was near you during these statements and think about how you might work together to solve some perfectionism issues next time.

4. For the next game called “Ta-daaa!” students will work with a partner, someone they trust. Give them a count of 10 to find a partner and stand facing each other with enough space to move around a bit.

5. Explain that people who are perfectionists are often afraid of making any kind of mistake. This winds up hindering that person’s ability to problem solve and creativity — two of the top characteristics sought by employers. Therefore, this game is going to concentrate on celebrating mistakes.

6. Have everyone in the group practice saying, “I blew it! Ta daaaaa!” Encourage saying it with enthusiasm and as much volume as the space will allow.

7. The partners will work together to create a big, flamboyant bow to go with the phrase, one that takes prideful ownership of whatever mistake happens. Say the phrase, then do the bow. Give them time to practice (1-2 minutes) and then ask volunteers to share their phrase-bows with the group.

8. Ask partners to quickly discuss how doing something this silly might help them deal with the emotions that come with making a mistake.

9. Gather the group back into a very wide circle for game #3, “Group Counting,” a game that most people cannot win the first time they play. The goal is to count as high as you can get, starting at the number one, one person at a time, taking a step into the middle of the circle as the number is shouted. Anyone in the circle can shout out the next number and take a step into the circle. The trick is that if more than one person says a number at the same time, you have to start over again. Nobody may cue another person to go; all number shouts outs must be made without a signal.

10. Instead of groaning when someone “messes up” and the group inevitably has to start over, everyone yells “We blew it! Ta daaaaa!” and happily starts over. Nobody is ever chastised for making a mistake or criticized for messing up; all mistakes are celebrated. Consider discussing strategies to be more successful that follow the standard rules.

11. When success is finally achieved—if ever—groan because the game is over…

  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Feelings that they are ugly, awkward, unlikeable
  • Hopelessness
  • Isolation/Loneliness
  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Feelings of rejection
  • Substance abuse
  • Self-injury
  • Eating disorders
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts
  • Delinquency
  • Homicidal thoughts and attempts
  • Academic suffering or failure
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty making healthy friendships

7. Ask the group to react to this list of effects. Which, if any, are surprising? Which, if any, are upsetting? Which, if any, are familiar? Why?

8. Break into five groups and give each group a copy of one of the poems about relational aggression. Their tasks are:

  • Read the poem silently and then aloud.
  • Determine the speaker (gender identity, age, any other details that would give us a window into the person’s character) and cite evidence to support the claim.
  • Determine what relational aggression strategies were used against or by the speaker. Cite evidence to support the claim.
  • Determine the effects of relational aggression on the speaker.
  • Predict what might possibly be the next step for the speaker.
  • What are some helpful, realistic ways other people in this person’s life could intervene?

9. Determine the way you would like students to share their poems and responses.


Gather back as a group and discuss how these games exposed your own attitudes toward perfection. With their partners from Ta-daaa!, ask students to contribute a reason for a class list of why it’s okay to make mistakes. Their list might include but is not limited to:

  • Mistakes make us think harder and try harder
  • Everyone makes mistakes, including very smart people, parents and teachers
  • Getting things wrong gives us another opportunity to do it again, which helps us be better
  • Getting things wrong develops patience and persistence – two skills that are more important than getting things perfect
  • If you are making mistakes it might mean you are working at a good speed (not too slowly)
  • Lower grades/mistakes mean other people can help us which is good for relationships
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