DD is 5 and excels in reading (she reads at about a 5th or 6th grade level) and verbal skills (we haven't done testing, I have no idea if she's "gifted" or not, but this seemed like the best place for this question). She is very hesitant to do things that she doesn't understand or suspects she'll answer wrong (math, a challenging puzzle, bike riding, whatever). She consistently wants to stick only with things she knows and feels confident about. She's an anxious kid all around and it really comes out here. She gets flustered, reacts and shuts down. It's hard for her to stick with things and work them out. We were talking about it today and she said that when she doesn't know something or gets something wrong it makes her feel "like it's a game and I lost. It feels bad inside".
I was a gifted kid and really struggled with this. I told her about several courses in college that I wish I had taken just because the subject matter is interesting, but didn't because I worried that I wouldn't do super well in it. I talked about my regret and how as an adult I've worked really hard at wanting to be a curious learner, instead of just knowing the answers. I have been learning guitar this year and she's seen me struggle with it but enjoy the process.
Since I know I didn't sort this out as a kid, I'm wondering how to support her growth in this area. Any advice/ideas?
I would find an activity that she can pursue long-term that is individually-paced, where there are expectations for excellence, but that is defined and supported in an individualized fashion, and activity with a community of fellow learners, where the guidance from teacher/mentor and parent can be holistic and fairly consistent over the years. My elder two kids were incredibly perfectionistic at your dd's age. Three activities that have fit the bill for them have been aikido (a non-competitive martial art), Suzuki violin lessons and gymnastics. Due to logistical challenges, Suzuki violin ended up being the one we could really settle into and stick with. With weekly lessons, the nurturing support of a teacher, the expectations of daily practice, the celebration of small but discrete accomplishments, the building of skills gradually over months and years, the mutual support of a community of fellow violin students, the documentation (videos, eg.) of gradually accumulating skills, guidance in breaking problems down into small manageable chunks, and the structure and consistency of the whole endeavor, my kids have had an incredibly potent object lesson in how to work through things that can't be mastered immediately. They apply it to other life areas naturally now.
It is so easy for bright kids to go through life without learning how to deal with things that are beyond their capabilities at a first go. I think it's really important to make the effort to find an arena that interests them that provides the opportunity to learn how to not succeed at first and yet to persist.
Mountain mama to two great kids and two great grown-ups
She sounds just like my daughter (now 9). It's getting easier for her now. Two of the many things that helped: 1) time and maturation, and 2) gently pushing her out of her comfort zone so that she learns that she can fail and survive. This is tricky with a five year old, though, so you may have to ride it out and wait.
It'll get better though :) :)
Thank you both for your replies. We had just been talking about some sort of music lessons for DD--she's asking for them. Either piano or violin, I guess. She's saying she'd prefer violin but piano makes more sense for us, so we'll see... She's just started kindergarten at a new school this fall and she's signed up for dance and swim lessons so we will likely wait until spring to start music, unless she seems bored and itchy for a new activity sooner. I'm glad to hear that violin worked out so well for yours, Miranda!
Thanks for starting this thread and for the thoughtful, experienced responses! We deal with this a lot with my just-turned-6yo (and I think the "mistakes" thing is a large part of her refusing to read, though she has been capable of reading for 2 years now!), including a very, very low frustration tolerance. Even though she had one bad (really bad) experience with competitive swimming this summer, she is moving full steam ahead into it this winter by her own choice, so I am glad to see that it actually may help her grow and mature along these lines!
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