View Full Version : Dealing with perfectionism--kind of long

02-28-2012, 07:28 AM
Yesterday DH was home and was witness to an enormous breakdown over writing. I think it might have been one of the first times he's really seen the full extent of our son's anguish over something seemingly really minor, at least as far as schoolwork goes. DH did an awesome job talking him down, and to our surprise DS actually broke down and admitted the problem: that he didn't want any explanation over the instructions because *he feels like he should already know how to do it and that if he doesn't know the answers, he feels stupid*.


While the admission wasn't exactly new information, to hear it come out of his mouth was. He's a kid that represses everything negative (and there's a lot in his world, he's extremely sensitive) until he finally explodes. We could feel the relief in his tears as he sobbed, it is such a rare event.

At any rate, we've been trying to deal with his perfectionism his entire life, but now it seems to be at the forefront again. How do you get through to a kid who honestly believes that he *should* already know everything? I can't imagine the burden he walks around with; on the outside he's so easy going but inside he clearly hides enormous pressure.

He isn't unaware that he's super smart (and absolutely no doubt--to use the contentious word of the week--gifted) but we don't talk about it. In fact we downplay it as much as is reasonable for reasons just like this--we don't want him to feel like there are any expectations on him. I know he sees the world differently than we do, that his realities and perspectives are vastly different than anything we can personally relate to, and I just feel at a loss as how to help him. I've seen the devastating anguish that perfectionism can cause but I'm unsure how to give him tools to help him cope.

Like I said, this isn't a new revelation to us but it's heavy on my mind today. I know some of you deal with it too. Does anyone have any advice?

02-28-2012, 08:20 AM
We have much the same thing going on here. Dd has always picked things up very quickly, and anything she has to work on *at all* upsets her beyond reason. She'll either melt down or shut down. :( It's gotten a bit easier as she's gotten older, but not much. We work hard on praising effort rather than results. We catch our own mistakes and talk through them in an upbeat way. Sometimes she plays teacher and helps me fumble through something new (not always with the greatest patience in the world!). I let her see me take on tasks that I have to work hard on. For instance, I'm learning to play guitar and she watches me struggle with chord progressions. I keep plugging away and she told me the other day that I've gotten a lot better since I started. I don't know if any of that helps but I have to think that she's internalizing some of it.

Something else that we're trying, with mixed results, is learning relaxation techniques. She does progressive relaxation at night, and we practice deep breathing. I'm trying to work meditation into our days but she's pretty resistant. Yoga goes down OK. Anything to quell the anxious energy.

02-28-2012, 12:33 PM
We deal with this as well. Really, both of my kids are perfectionists, but my ds is the one who HATES to make mistakes. I'm really lax on neatness for math, but he'll erase and erase until he's satisfied (and telling him I can read it, it's fine, doesn't stop him). He's also the kid who will cry or be horrified if he makes a single mistake.

I do a lot of talking about it. We don't learn if we never make mistakes. You don't have to be perfect to be perfect (we came up with that one when he was 4, and we still say it constantly). I repeatedly assure my kids that I'm happy with 90%, and even if they get teary I'm still cheerful and happy about it (I'm trying to model how I want them to feel here- not trying to downplay their feelings). I studiously avoid comparisons between kids- not always easy for them. And I take on those 'I should already know this' feelings by saying I obviously didn't explain it well- whether I think I did or not doesn't matter. I do tell my kids constantly how incredibly bright they are- for different reasons, both took a hit here on their self-esteem, so this is important to me. I completely get where you are coming from, though.

So... a lot of talking.

02-28-2012, 12:33 PM
My son is a sensitive perfectionist and so am I. You might already be doing these, but here's my advice. I think it helps to look at perfectionism as something that is a part of his inherent nature. With that, it needs to be acknowledged by him and managed by him. I would suggest thinking of it the same way as someone thinks of having a quick temper. Or even the same way as his sensitivities. It's not something that needs to be changed unless it really bothers him. BUT, it IS your job as mama to teach him the tools to help manage it. In my experience, this is a very slow process and one I'm still working on.

So, with each time it comes up, acknowledge... This is my tendency. I have a CHOICE about how to respond. I can feel bad about myself. Or I can look at examples of people I see and how they are not perfect, but are still loved and intelligent, etc. For me, thinking at have a choice makes a big difference. I still fall into it, but I am more able to take a step back and look at what my expectations are versus what other people's expectations are (people that I trust and look up to) and temper my tendencies against those.

02-28-2012, 12:47 PM
Sometimes she plays teacher and helps me fumble through something new (not always with the greatest patience in the world!).

I completely agree with skrink. Zack is a perfectionist and feels because some subjects are nearly effortless for him, the others should come easily, too.

One of his favorite games is paragraph editing. We pretend that I'm the student who produced an abysmal paragraph and he likes to go through the whole routine of "Ginny, could you come to my desk please?" where he sits ready with a red pen. While he's correcting my "errors" in the paragraph, I say what I've heard him say before: "I'm so stupid! Why can't I understand something so simple?!? I'll never get this!!" He answers with encouraging things like, "It's okay, we all have to learn these things," or "You don't have to be perfect, what's important is learning from what you did wrong," and I hope he will start internalizing those messages.

If he's having a particularly bad time we do guided relaxation or a little yoga or we break out the art supplies because there are no mistakes in art.

02-28-2012, 05:32 PM
My oldest and youngest have some perfectionism. In fact, i was just talking to my 19 yo who is really depressed because she's been sick and might get a few Bs this semester instead of straight As, and hasnt been able to make straight As yet in community college (She's had some very rough teachers who put things on tests they havent covered yet, or cover in lectures differently than what's in the text, and then mark it wrong if you answer it like the textbook has it - plus fibromyalgia and really bad cycles). I'm reminding her she's being a perfectionist and she's trying to remind herself that making straight As wont make a HUGE difference - but then remembers one employer saying a 3.6 gpa isnt high enough to get in to the marketing business. I'm honestly not sure what to say other than - ok, maybe not the most competitive jobs, but you will still be able to find fine jobs which will make you a fine living.

Raven also tends towards perfectionism. With him I tend to say things more like, sure, you're smart, but if you dont learn to work hard, too, that wont really help much. You have to learn to write down the problems so you can do the harder ones. And if I thought you already should know everything in this curriculum, i wouldnt use it. The whole point of education is to learn things you dont already know. And the best way to really remember it is to make a mistake! Because then you'll get mad and NEVER forget it!

Recently Raven has been punching himself on the head every time he realizes he made a mistake. Its tiresome but mostly he laughs about it, so i'm not stressing. in fact, i'm more worried about him getting lazy and not trying very hard. i was very much that way . . . if its hard work, its not fun so why do it

02-28-2012, 06:04 PM
Wasn't why we started it, but I've noticed that doing a MA has helped with my dd's perfectionism. Maybe because martial arts are about the journey, there is no perfection but there is "better with deeper understanding." :)

Accidental Homeschooler
02-28-2012, 10:11 PM
I have asked my kids, when they are upset over mistakes (and this is a big one here) what it means if they miss something. I tends to be something like it means that they are stupid. With my younger dd I use humor, "remember the dinner rolls mommy tried to make yesterday? Do you think I am stupid?" She got the point and plus it cheered her up to remeber how bad they were and the many jokes they inspired. With my older dd I can get a little more into sort of, "Do you want to only do easy things for the rest of your life, things you already know how to do? Does doing something really challenging and having to work hard mean you are stupid?" She is a tougher case but I think she gets the message (she is 14 so she just can't admit that she gets the message).

03-02-2012, 09:17 AM
Thanks to everyone who replied. I knew I'd get lots of support and great feedback here! :)

It's been a rough week, and there's no end in sight. I suspect all of this "belly anger" as he calls it comes from something else, that the root of his issues is something I just haven't tapped into yet. Part of my personal frustration is that I don't have anyone (except DH) IRL who seems to quite get it. On the surface DS is easy going and ever-happy, but the reality is that it's like walking on eggshells more often than not to keep him that way. This week I feel like those eggshells are being stomped on and the effects are sort of brutal.

Thanks for listening, and thanks for the suggestions. I take every single one to heart.

03-02-2012, 04:07 PM
There are a few books out on dealing with emotional needs of the gifted that give different techniques to try. Parenting Gifted Children is a pretty good one and your library should have a copy.

03-02-2012, 04:48 PM
Thank you Amy, I'll check it out!

03-02-2012, 07:37 PM
One thing I've done with DS is explain it is a kid's job to make mistakes. That's why they are kids. Every mistake they make helps them be better adults. And it is not the mommy and daddy's job to be bossy, but to teach the kid how to be an adult.

DS seems to take things better if he knows WHY. Timeouts and loss of priviledges started becoming less of a day ruiner when I explained that these things helps his brain remember. For instance, if I just let him run amok and break things, he'd do it later and be a silly adult. But if I correct him, he knows. If he keeps doing it, a punishment helps his brain remember. But mine is a bit younger, and this doesn't address your problem exactly. I was just hoping maybe it will give you an idea to tweak :) OT- this helps with school too. When we review something he thinks he should know, it's not his fault. His brain just needs a bit more practice.