My daughter is a perfectionist. Mostly in the sense that she doesn't want people to see her do something until she has mastered it and is happy with it. On one hand, I think this makes her a good candidate for homeschooling because I personally think the only way you get to be really successful in a school setting is to "show off" as it were, your skills. However, dealing with it at home is really, really frustrating.
I often hear her criticize her drawings, she often says things like "my K isn't very good" etc. This is at 5! We are really really non critical and I just don't know where she gets this negative self talk. Also, I feel like she doesn't try anything new because she thinks she doesn't know how to do it. We have talked about the concepts of practicing and what "learning" means. Both my husband and i even backed off telling her she did something well, and have tried to teach her that it only matters if she is happy with herself.
At 5, almost 6, we still do so much for her. Dressing, shoes, etc. and I feel like maybe this is because she thinks she doesn't know how. On that topic, I am really frustrated and honestly, am ready for her to take on a few more independent skills. But I don't know how to help that happen without using rewards, etc and for me, that is one reason I am unschooling, to try and get away from that.
She was very like this with potty training as well, she was ready, but didn't believe she was ready. I essentially forced that to happen. I want to homeschool/semi unschool, but, I don't feel like she takes steps forward on her own partially because of her perfectionism.
I am wondering how to "educate" this kind of personality. Are there any good books/resources someone could suggest for homeschooling the perfectionist?
Mama to a wonderful girl since 12/2007
I thought I didn't have much to say, but I found I had a few comments.
We have some perfectionism in our house. DD1 was 5.5 when she really started blossoming with stepping out and doing some skills on her own. She also has fine motor control difficulties that clash with her perfectionist streak. Slowly, everything is improving. She is almost 9. She writes (neatly but slowly) and draws and paints. We've also talked about practice in the appropriate moments, but at 5, there is still a lot of development that can just arrive on its own.
I have less experience with the negative talk. But it doesn't sound, from your example, like she is discouraged, just critical. If she doesn't think it's perfect, does she want to learn how to make it better? You could say something like "I think your 'K' is nice. I can easily tell what letter it is, and that's what's important" then look over some writing examples from your childhood, if you have them.
There is a big difference between judgment of self and judgment of skill. Judgment of skill isn't necessarily a negative thing. I do it all the time-- I make something very edible and lovely, but you can bet I notice where I could have improved things. Thinking that makes me a terrible cook-- that is self-judgment, and that is more troublesome. Self-judment focusses on our personal worth because of our perceptions of our skills. For children, it can especially mean their loveability. Simply critiquing our skills is not necessarily the same thing, although it can be another way of expressing how we view ourselves.
As far as practice-- my perfectionist, who abandoned many a writing project because of discouragement, loved to practice gymnastics. She was never discouraged--she just kept trying. In this case, her perfectionism helped her. She was only once discouraged when she was close to advancing but struggling with a couple of key and difficult skills, and two of her classmates (who went 2x every week) advanced ahead of her. But, a few months later, she was up a level and back to enjoy every foible, and every victory. I was able to use gymnastics as an example for when practice was the issue. "Remember how many months it took to learn to do a back hip circle?" Finally, she got it.
What do you have to do for yourself? Do you have projects to do and books to read? Learning new things--like getting comfortable around people-- might take some warming up to.
Kids like this especially need plenty of time to revel in whatever mastery they have. I highly encourage lingering over hard won skills, even to the point of parental torture . Kids--perfectionists especially--need that spaciousness and luxury.
I always find it discouraging that school kids have to charge ahead into something new as soon as they have shown competence in the previous skill. No time for playing with the concepts. No time to feel like they have mastery over something. I find it extremely discouraging just thinking about it! Some kids revel in the challenge (I knew those kids), others dread it.
Your daughter is 5. Chances are she is on the cusp of a huge leap.
"She is a mermaid, but approach her with caution. Her mind swims at a depth most would drown in."
I'm the mom to two fairly extreme perfectionists and one moderate perfectionist, and am a bit of a perfectionist myself. We've found unschooling to be a really great way of coping with these tendencies most of the time, though there are issues that sometimes arise that are difficult to reconcile with unschooling.
All the standard advice goes, of course. Praise effort, not results. Learn your own things in ways that allow you to make plenty of mistakes in full view of your child, and continue to push through the mistakes. Play games (eg. guessing games like Twenty Questions) where 'wrong' results provide clues that get you closer to the goal. Offer your child privacy for practice. Allow her to learn by observing for as long as she needs. Encourage "five good tries" and ask her which one she thought was the best, with the expectation that those tries will get her closer to the goal by tomorrow, even if they don't assure success today. I also think that when kids express negative opinions of their performance sometimes it can be helpful to resist the urge to earnestly jump in and try and reframe things, encourage them, offer solace or whatever ... and instead just agree, express casual confidence that it'll all work out in time, and move on. "Yup, that's a pretty wonky K. [shrug] That's okay, you've got about 10 more years to learn neat handwriting. What do you think: should we should do those balsamic green beans for dinner again?" This is probably the biggest thing I've done differently with my youngest and while I can't say it's cause and effect, she's the least perfectionistic of my kids by far.
SweetSilver's distinction between judgment of skill and judgment of self is very insightful. There have been times when I've pushed my perfectionists a bit past their resistance, and it's always been when I've sensed that their frustration and anxiety about lack of mastery was beginning to spiral into negative self-judgment that was affecting overall self-concept. For instance, my ds, when he was almost 10, had a younger sister who was about to overtake his level of math skill. He had a workbook series he really liked, except he had been defeated a couple of times by his perfectionism and had lost interest in it for more than a year as a result. He wanted to progress, but was afraid he would fail, and with his sister progressing so capably, he was beginning to get really down on himself and to think of himself as "useless in math" and "stupider than S___." I chose to push him a bit. Actually, after we talked things over he had enough insight into the whole issue that I merely offered to push him, and he agreed. It wasn't easy at first, and it didn't look very unschooly at all, but he had committed to a three-month experiment and it only took a month or two to unblock the clot.
Anyway, having said all that, your dd is 5. That's so young! Her ability to think abstractly, to see the longer-term picture, to internalize coping strategies that help her persist and push past in-the-moment difficulties, all that will blossom over the next five to seven years. At this point, just keep encouraging "good tries," in privacy if that's helpful, let her take what time she needs unless you see it affecting her self-concept, and stay casual and confident about the whole business.
Mountain mama to one great kid and three great grown-ups
When my perfectionist was 5 I dropped all academic expectations and focused on emotional stuff-- including coping with frustration and dealing better with her sensory stuff. Intellectually, she was ready for a lot of stuff that she was not ready for emotionally, if that makes sense. Things that were a huge struggle at 5 were a thousand times better by age 7 and are almost no problem at all at age 12.
As for the self-care stuff, if I decided it was something I needed to address, I would probably pick one task and stop doing it for her-- being sure to leave her lots of time to get it done herself. And I would not stand around with nothing to do while she did it-- I'd tell her to do it herself and then leave the room, both because my perfectionist would do better without an audience, and because I'd be likely to either jump in with suggestions or end up helping to an extent that I'd be doing it for her. An ideal way to make it happen could be to say "once you've gotten dressed we can go to the park" or somewhere else she likes to go where it wouldn't matter if you are delayed because she takes a long time. I would also tell her very clearly that she is big enough to do X for herself now, and I need to go do Y, and then stick to it. Any chance this is less about perfectionism in the "I might not do it perfectly" flavor, and more about a disliking change?
Other thoughts: Absolutely take up a new hobby and let her see you struggle with it-- this has helped us a lot, both for my kids to see that even adults are bad at things at first, and for me to remember how hard it can be to do something new. Monitor yourself to be sure she isn't learning the negative self-talk from you-- it's easy to do without realizing.
Alot of good replies. Have two girls who are similar. I would say acknowledge and not trying to correct. I'.e. "My k looks stupid and crocked." Just repeat to her (sometimes, not every time!) "You find that your K looks a little bit crooked." Maybe you can follow with, how do straight K's look? Or do you know anyone who has matching length shoe laces? How do they get theirs to match? Do you think there is a technique or are the laces "just that way". The food IS hot, how could we make it a better temperature to eat? (no judging, and sometimes the whole idea of being silly helps some kids eventually: i.e. we could move to Alaska where it's cold. We could mail order snow from Grandma in Canada, etc). Helping these kinds of personalities literally think outside the box and get from "Stuck" to funny, happy and more easy going takes work but it does help them to realize that what they are living is not "the world" and doesn't "have to be" that way. Things can be hot, but not everyone cries about it. Once they start noting that 10 people have 10 reactions to the same same situation they can start learning freewill and how to "choose" what reaction they want. The ycan choose their own but copying can be relieving too. You could ask "How would baby Sandra next door eat her oatmeal? And you get to play too!". How does Tommy at the library talk (speak using no"r"s". Yup how does Grandpa from Texas talk?" Yup. How does daddy walk? How does mommy look when she is happy? How do you look when you are happy? How about when she is mad? How do you look when you are mad? How does mommy look when you get mad? Etc, etc. In my own experience kids who are sensitive like this are very VERY self centered (i.e. they have no idea what's going on beyond their nose!). Many times their world, is rainy, wet, cold and miserable whereas right past their nose is a bright, sunny, pleasant and fresh baked environment! I was one of those kids myself, so I am speaking out of experience. And I though I was perfect LOL.
In my own experience kids who are sensitive like this are very VERY self centered (i.e. they have no idea what's going on beyond their nose!). Many times their world, is rainy, wet, cold and miserable whereas right past their nose is a bright, sunny, pleasant and fresh baked environment! I was one of those kids myself, so I am speaking out of experience. And I though I was perfect LOL.
You hit it on the nail with my oldest. She doesn't really see much past her nose, has a shortage of imagination when it comes to how others might feel. Whether it's true or not in general, you described my perfectionist daughter to a T.
"She is a mermaid, but approach her with caution. Her mind swims at a depth most would drown in."
Please do let me know if anything helps to make a girl "like this" happier. I would say in general my girls (identical twins) are super unhappy in life. I mean really, their blankets are never right, clothing forget it, food is a hassle. They do love passionately many things but they are also breaking down and fussy very many times. Whereas I can look at my two boys and see nothing of this.
I do chalk it up to sensitive temperaments. I have also read a bunch on sensory aggressiveness and the new name it's called (can't remember right now) and it's helped me remember how I was as a kid and to understand how they perceive for example a cup half full of water. Yes they are smart, very smart really, and maybe it's a lot of brain power on emotionally immature children (emotionally they are about 2 if they are tired). Which is really hard to keep in mind because their vocab and way of reasoning is really advanced, so when they talk I'm not always conscious that okay she is like a 24 month old right now, she just needs a hug, some sugar/ food, and a nap. And she will cry and fuss because that's what some 2 years olds do. It's not a big deal, she won't be harmed permanently even though with her great memory she may remember how "miserable" her childhood was. Why will the other kids have totally different memories of the exact same dinner? Top it off that they tend to get princess treatment and still... having identical twins who fuss the same way for pretty much the same stuff and having 2 other kids who don't has thank God helped me realize that yes I probably enable them/ contribute but sheez since they BOTH fuss and fuss with everyone at some point, I'm cutting myself a break, deserved or not. And a piece of cake. Hah. And I'm not sharing ;)
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