Help me with my perfectionist 2 year old - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 6 Old 11-01-2011, 10:53 AM - Thread Starter
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DS 2.5 has been showing a perfectionist type A side to his personality lately.  Playing with play-doh leads to sobbing when he can't get it smashed flat and perfectly round.  When he finally calms down, he says "play-doh is just really hard for me!"  He wants to write letters all the time, but if the horizontal lines don't connect to the verticle line on a capital E, he starts shrieking "that's not right! that's not right!  Oh, I'm no good at this.  I can't draw letters!" 


I know this is probably Gifted + Anxious + 2 years old + Asynchronous. 


Anybody have exeprience/advice for the short term - and also what do I look out for in the long term.  I'm afraid for his self esteem.  He's so hard on himself.  I'm trying really hard to not criticize or praise his end product, but instead praise and award the effort.

Life is strange and wonderful.  Me read.gif, DP lady.gif, DS (3/09) blahblah.gif , 3 dog2.gif  and 4 cat.gif

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#2 of 6 Old 11-01-2011, 11:49 AM
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The fact that he can express that is really good. I agree it is better not to praise the end product and I would extend that a bit to trying to overall deemphasize paying a lot of attention to his process too. Especially for oldest and only kids it can sometimes just feel like everything they do is really attended to and commented on. Try to model enjoying being in the moment and focus low energy on attending to what he's doing or not doing while still acknowledging how he's feeling. Also modeling that you handle your own mistakes well is good too.


Just to give the upside, my kid who was like this has remained a driven and hard working person. Not to say these traits were easy to take in the toddler or preschool years, but ultimately they can serve a person well.

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#3 of 6 Old 11-01-2011, 12:21 PM
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It's a long term problem I haven't managed to solve myself. I have two very different perfectionist.


My eldest is the push, push, push until you are perfect sort. That internal drive to be perfect is so strong. Even she as a teenager KNOWS that it's unrealistic but admits, it's an impulse that she can't always control. When she was little, we did what you are already doing.... praising effort instead of performance. Modeled positive reactions to imperfection with my own doings. We steered her to activities that focused on "personal best" and required long-term study. We verbalized what she was doing.... "I know you aren't happy with the horse head you drew but personally, I really liked how you made the mane flow. Art is all about how it makes a person feel and your horse made me feel really good." Ongoing acknowledgement and talk has seemed the most beneficial but like I said, she's 14 and it still rears it's ugly head. It's just better than it was and I'm starting to think that is all we can really do.


My youngest is also a perfectionist but a very different sort. He doesn't want to try for fear of not being perfect. He does not push himself to do his best. He does "enough" and likes to be able to say "I did it fastest, I did it without trying." This gives him an excuse for not being as perfect as he really feels he should be. We had to make sure he was in an appropriate academic situation that expected him to work above level as opposed to an environment that gave him options (because he would not take the options.) I'd be OK with him on a slower path if HE was OK with it but he's not. Nudging him to take challenge, risk trying hard and possibly not succeeding always ends up with his feeling really good about himself no matter the out come. 


I'd stay positive with your son. Take him to see some famous art and point out how lots of art isn't representative of real life. Show him art that you might really love but isn't perfect. For example, I really like Jackson Pollock. Yes, it's just paint spattering but when I sit in a room with one of those giant canvasses, I can't help it but my imagination is sparked. Acknowledge what he's feeling out loud. Give him the vocabulary he needs to express those feeling. Otherwise, keep doing that you are doing.

Married mom of two, DD 17 and DS 13.
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#4 of 6 Old 11-02-2011, 05:56 AM
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My daughter was like that.  It was just a phase.  Actually, it ended up being just a phase because I figured it was my duty as her parent to teach her that not everything can be in our control - I spent a lot of time explaining from a scientific point of view:  'playdohs made of this, so it sometimes does this.'  'your hands are very little, so sometimes your brain knows how to do something but you can't always make your hands do it, but you can practice and thats a good thing if you can't do it right away because you have lots of time to practice!'  (Im paraphrasing here just to give an idea)  I taught her how to shrug things off and practice saying 'its ok!' Mostly, i led by example and when she'd get mad (a good example was her learning how to do a cartwheel), I'd say things like 'yeah but oh my gosh, that one was SO much better then the one before, each time you get better and better!'


It took years, now she's 6.5 and she is far more balanced now, and much more pleasant to give a task to.  I remember how crazy it was before though, like when she was 3 - I almost didn't want to do crafts with her because of the meltdowns over paper being crooked and what not.   Having her little sister, who is the opposite (completely free spirited, messy and loves any kind of disorder) was also a crash course for her on how to deal. :D


Don't overthink it.  I used to think my daughter was like that because she was a hard working genius but some left brained 2.5 yr olds realllllly dig predicability and things being 'as they should be'.  But really, she's just a normal kid with quirks.  I actually learned some relaxation/mediation techniques that her and I could do together to get her to just relax a bit more about things she can't control.  

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#5 of 6 Old 11-02-2011, 07:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Astrogirl View Post

It took years, now she's 6.5 and she is far more balanced now, and much more pleasant to give a task to. 

Just watch for ebbs and flows. It's been a river with our eldest. We'd work and work and things would get better. Just when I thought we'd passed the perfectionist "stage" it would rear it's ugly head. Hopefully, you are done with it but I find that certain ages and stages allow a child to be more "perfect" without worry than others. 


Married mom of two, DD 17 and DS 13.
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#6 of 6 Old 11-09-2011, 01:03 PM
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Pranava, I find myself in that situation with my  almost 3 yr old son constantly. Each day it is a new thing he has been unable to master and shrieks of "this is too hard for me" or "I can't do it" emanate! But I have tried to assuage his fears of being incompetent by saying that learning takes time and it is okay to make mistakes. It only works to an extent and does not really work at other times. Anyway, just wanted to empathize. :)

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