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Teaching a preschool perfectioninst - tips, please

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
I was wishy washy about home preschooling my 3 year old until we actually started doing it. I knew she had perfectionist tendencies, and I can't say that I'm surprised since her father is a total perfectionist. So she gets it honest, as my mother would say. Anyhow, her biggest problem is with her tracing book. It's just a simple book to get her used to holding her pencil correctly and start getting the skills to learn how to write. She loves it, but if she strays from the line even a tiny bit she starts to cry and tells me that it's not perfect.

I'm not sure what to do about it. My husband is not thrilled that she has started to develop so many of the little perfectionistic habits, and some of the ADHD stuff he does, because he says that he wants her to be happy, and I know that his perfectionism is a real burden for him. I, on the other hand, am a total disorganized freak. I live by the "good enough" principle.

How do you teach a child that it doesn't have to be perfect, but also not teach them to do a bad job? I would like her to be a little more dedicated in life than I am, but definitely not as particular as my dh. When she throws a fit and cries, what should I do? So far I just tell her that we need to take a break, and try to suggest a fun activity, but she cries even harder because she wants to do school. She has a very low tolerance for frustration, and truthfully, for a child who is almost 4 she cries quite a bit.

I feel I should say, however, that she is also extremely bright, very creative and crafty, and just a sweet spunky little girl. I don't want to create an impression of her that is not correct. She is really a joy to be with.
post #2 of 15
Oooh, I don't know about this tracing book idea--I've never heard of it, but it doesn't sound good (especially in this situation). Children learn best when there's no risk of failure. There's no way for someone to be a "perfectionist" when there's no one right way to do things. (I have a lot of problems with the way we talk about perfectionism, which is why I'm using the quotes, but I'm not arguing with the way you describe your little girl.)

I would really recommend Susan Striker's books about allowing children to develop creativity. I think they're "Young at Art" and "Please Touch".

You might think more about what you want your child to do and experience, and less about what you want to "teach". I wonder, why would a three-year-old need to learn how to hold a pencil properly? If it's important, why can't she just scribble? She'll learn better that way than with the anxiety of tracing. Also, there are lots of activities that develop fine motor skills--not just writing and drawing. But above all, I recommend Striker's books. I am not an artist and she really helped me learn how to approach things with my son.
post #3 of 15
No great thoughts here, but why not just do away with the tracing book. Let her practice on paper writing the letters on her own. Have her make her own book that she can write in.
post #4 of 15
My Ds was (is) like this and what helped a lot was to use dry erase whenever possible. That way he could erase whatever he thought wasn't *good enough* and nobody needed to see what was a failure in his eyes.

Could you slip the pages into page protectors and use dry erase markers or washable crayons? If you want to skip the tracing altogether as others have suggested I highly recommend a chalk board or white board.
post #5 of 15

I'm going to stand up for this mom. If her dd is like my 3 year old ds than her duaghter wants to trace.

Serenity Now ds is also like this. We had the same problem last night. Ds layed his head on the table and said I can't do it. I just asked him if he wanted to do something else and try tracing later. My idea for ds is that he can do tracing great for a little bit but his hand is not strong enough. I'm going to do tracing early in the pre- school lesson for the day. THen do something that is easy and fun. For the perfect challenge. Ds says it's not perfect about a lot of stuff . I always tell him that he doesn't have to be perfect. I also allow creative freedom as much as possible. He get to draw, clue and glue what he wants. I hope this helps.

post #6 of 15
I've got a perfectionist 5 yr old. She wanted to learn to write but was afraid to try because her letters would not turn out perfect. I filled a cookie sheet with rice and let her write the letters in the rice. By the time she would finish the letter the rice had hid her printing. She couldn't see any mistake. We do a letter a week and she no longer needed the rice by "E".
post #7 of 15

I just wanted to say BTDT - and am fact still doing it. My 5yo is a MAJOR perfectionist and it is a huge problem. Part of it is that she is also highly gifted- although I have never had her tested. So, when she makes a mistake it is as if the world came to an end. It goes well beyond her school work - which I am very lax about since she is so far ahead (approx. a 4th grade level in most subjects) - and mostly self-taught. But for example, it took her over a year to potty train. She would decide (always up to her) that she wanted to use the potty, she would be dry for a couple of days and then she would have an accident and would completely freak out and would refuse to get near a potty for months. Then we would start all over again. We had a similar problem with learning how to skate, because she fell...

You can begin to guess how many times I have told her that mistakes are how we learn and "accidents happen". I actually have hanging up on the wall now the quote "Mistakes are Opportunities to Learn" and for a while there I had a sticker chart going where if she made a mistake and didn't get upset, she got a sticker and earned prizes. And yes, most parents thought I was crazy or exaggerating, but it was extremely frustrating. Because she loves to learn, but if she made a mistake she would completely shut down and be miserable the rest of the day.

Anyway, just commiserating with you. It has definitely gotten easier in the past year or so and I really don't know if that is just an age thing, or if it is because we spent so much time working on it. Probably a bit of both. In the meantime, you may want to try to minimize the things that are causing the most problems.
post #8 of 15
My DS has perfectionist tendencies (he is 4) and my answer to it honestly is to put away the workbooks altogether for the time being. I want him to associate learning with enjoyment and anything that has to be done "right" just sets him off with no (IMO) accompanying benefit. I figure we can deal with stuff like penmanship etc when he is older and better able to handle his emotions...in the meantime we do stuff that he enjoys.

The only "schooly" things we are doing currently are reading mountains of books (most his choice...some mine) and we just started a "writing journal". He loves to make up and tell stories so I take dictation for him and write them down. He loves to have them read back to him (over and over and over.....) and even though occasionally his perfectionism gets in the way here too (Momma you wrote it down wrong....proceed to meltdown) I think that the benefits in this case outweigh the occasional negative outbursts (oh if only I could learn to write faster...or he could learn to dictate slower LOL!)

We also do a fair bit of "art" but it is always freeform...ie I never give him projects with "what it should look like" already planned out. I give him tools (paints, pencils, crayons, paper etc) and he creates.

I have learned over time that he figures things out in his own time and if I try to push things before that it is emotionally messy...not sure if your DD is the same but I figured I would offer my perspective.

post #9 of 15
My oldest is a perfectionist too. I remember when she was about 3 she burst into tears because she couldn't cut out a perfect triangle. I second the idea of putting away the tracing book in favor of something that can be easily erased.

I know what you mean about wanting her to put a reasonable amount of effort into things, but there's plenty of time for her to learn that when she's a little older. My dd has matured a LOT in the last couple years, and she copes with frustration much better now at almost 6.


post #10 of 15
Thread Starter 
Yonit and jayb842 thank you very much. I think unless you have a perfectionist it is hard to understand how pervasive this is. The tracing book was just an example, my dd is like this in exery aspect of her life, from drawing pictures, to gymnastics class. I've tried having "silly" days where we make mistakes on purpose, just to get her to see that it's OK, and she's good with that and plays along and thinks it's funny, but once the joke is over it's back to the same old thing. I also reward my dd for not crying when she makes mistakes! That part really struck me. We actually have a magnet chart on the wall and she gets one everytime she messes up and doesn't cry.

Tealee, I love the idea of the rice for tracing letters. I think that will help her quite a bit.

I feel like I need to defend the infamous tracing book, lol. when we do school I bring out all of our books and let her pick. That one is her favorite, and she always picks it first. I just used it as an example, but like I said, my dd is like this in all aspects of her life. She cries if her mulch sculptures won't stay the way she wants them, if her drawings aren't just right, if her socks and sleeves aren't the same length all of the time, if her forward rolls aren't perfect and on and on. Today she couldn't get her fork to rest on the exact spot she wanted on the plate during dinner. Frankly, it baffles me even though I live with her father, who is the same way. That man spends 15 minutes straightening the fitted sheet on the bed before he can lay on it. He gets upset if his socks aren't matched right, and on and on. It's a great trait to have in his line of work, but it doesn't make him very happy. He has a hard time just letting stuff go.

I feel very baffled by my dd's defeatist attitude as well. I am so easy going about stuff, that it's not like I'm harping on her. In my perspective school is just something fun for us to do together, and she loves to learn, so that's another bonus. But she tries to do it, and then just explodes in anger and then cries and completely gives up, and keeps telling me "I can't do it. It's not perfect, mama. I want it to be perfect."

We do read tons of books, and always have. We go on field trips often and try to take educational vacations, and just follow her lead to teach her whatever she is interested in. She's a smart little thing. She knew all of her letters and the sounds they make by 2 and a half, and can now sound out simple words. Truthfully, though, her social and emotional development were the main reasons we decided to homeschool her. I watch her gymnastics class, and she is a very high strung little girl compared to the others in her class, and I have concerns that teachers would not understand her and would just beat the natural curiosity that she has out of her.

Is there really a good way to deal with this personality trait, or is it something I will just need to keep being patient about? Truthfully, I don't see her growing out of it, since I see the grown-up result in my daily life. How can I teach her good coping skills?
post #11 of 15
Ahh, my middle child is like this. We kind of delt (deal) with it like any other attitude problem. I hate hate hate the whole perfectionist thing and have very strong feelings about where it is rooted beside just personality. but that is nether here nor there. My dd also gets it from her dad.

so we take things as slow as possible. If she can't listen/practice nicely she is not allowed to play/practice/ do whatever what she was doing. So in the example of the tracing book (is it the Kumon tracing book? we looooved that book but it frustrates Lily -perfectionist- to watch her sister who does it less than perfectly and doesn't care. Lily can't stand other peoples inperfections any more than her own which is why I take this so seriously) if she started doing her "its not perferct" tantrum - which generally includes throwing things, growling, ripping and crumpeling- I will take the book away from her and tell her she can come back to it when she can do it calmly. which of course means more yelling and screaming because kowing that it is out there, unperfected, drives her nuts. but I refuse to let her tear up things and throw things and hurt people (she is very physically expressive) She can be as persnickity as she wants but she needs to learn to deal with it calmly. and when she can't do something perfect she refuses to be told she is wrong. kinda like "if I can't be perfect i will just pretend I am and everyone better agree with me." it is important to me that my children have teachable spirits so we work on that too. this doesn't happen so much any more though.

and she has been like this since she was an infant. she started crawling at 4 months and promptly crawled off the bed and broke her collar bone. for the first 24 hours she just screamed adn screamed. we thought she was in misreable pain. nope. she was just ticked of because she had been in the middle of figuring something out and she couldn't figure out how to get her arms in front of her to finish what she was doing. Also from about a two on she was obsessed with clothes. not that she cared what she looked like but she cared what other people thought she looked like. she needed to wear the right clothes to make people like her. she had to be perefct or she thought people wouldn't like her. it is so pervasive and so deeply rooted I really worry about her. It is not just about a silly workbook or math problem or handwriting. it is everything.she has trouble expressing love to people because she can't figure out how to express herself perfectly (and of course this leads to frustrated tantrums) and she has trouble recieving love because she thinks people are lieing if they tell her they love her and she was anything less than perfect. .. .

she gets absolutely obsessive about stuff. it is is so frustrating. and then when she just can't do it it is the end of the world and she i stupid and everyone hates her and she wants to die. and we are talking about little things. like when she writes her 3 backwards.

maddning. wish I had more help to offer.

**(who ever mentioned dry erase had a very good idea. the same people who make the tracing book also make dry erase tracing cards. we got them today. they love them. even my sweetl little perfectionist. she can quickly erase and try again.)
post #12 of 15
my dd has these tendencies too and my brother who does as well sent her two books that really helped her.

They are both by Reynolds - (sorry can't remember full name and dd seems to have misplaced it right now) one is called Ish and the other is The Dot. Both deal with perfectionism in art and are cute stories. Perfect for any age.

It's late so I will save my own personal comments, etc for another time perhaps.
post #13 of 15
Originally Posted by tealee
I've got a perfectionist 5 yr old. She wanted to learn to write but was afraid to try because her letters would not turn out perfect. I filled a cookie sheet with rice and let her write the letters in the rice. By the time she would finish the letter the rice had hid her printing. She couldn't see any mistake. We do a letter a week and she no longer needed the rice by "E".
oh my days I love that, I am so glad you said that.
post #14 of 15
Originally Posted by lilyka
Ahh, my middle child is like this. We kind of delt (deal) with it like any other attitude problem.

If she can't listen/practice nicely she is not allowed to play/practice/ do whatever what she was doing.
She can be as persnickity as she wants but she needs to learn to deal with it calmly.
she gets absolutely obsessive about stuff. it is is so frustrating.
I agree-- my dd may not be as strongly perfectionist as some of your kids, but the trait is there, and that is how we dealt with it. I think there are really 2 things going on, one is wanting the world to match the picture in her head, and the other is coping with frustration. She also gets it from her Dad, and he feels very strongly that she not be allowed to throw fits because she's frustrated. My MIL has passed away, but she told me some pretty amazing stories about the tantrums dh would throw when he was a kid. She was also a perfectionist, and I think its easier for a non-perfectionist (like me) to deal with this stuff, because it is frustrating.

When her main issue was frustration with fine motor control, she found erasing to be very empowering. If you want to keep using your tracing book, you could get dry erase markers and transparency film. Then she could easily erase any mistakes.


post #15 of 15
Edited because I didn't read through the whole thread...How about "Raising Your Spirited Child" this book does a great job with suggestions on coping with parent/child personality mismatches.

Einstien Never Used Flashcards - nice discussion in the last few chapters on how play facilitates problem solving and risk taking in young children. She also has a nice discussion on how/why choosing toys and tasks that are open ended and allow multiple solutions encourage children to challenge themselves and persevere through frustration.

It sounds like you dd is having a hard time internalizing the concept of multiple solutions. Does that make sense? Like she's thinking that something has to be done in a certain way and only that way or it isn't right?

I think that in this case you may wish to closely scrutinize you activities and play environment and eliminate "one possible solution" type toys and activities. Perhaps gymnastics should be eliminated and replaced with a playdate with a friend or trip to the playground. Ditch the tracing book and bring out plain paper, get rid of puzzles and bring out the blocks in their place, lots of open ended activities like playdough, sand box time, water play and toys.

I think that rather than rewarding her for controling her emotions I would focus on making creating an environment that makes it easy for her to suceed. If a specific toy or activity repeatedly causes her to loose it, quitely eliminate that toy (in a way that her feelings aren't further hurt) and relpace it with something that doesn't have a wrong answer, kwim?
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