help me to help my perfectionist 8yo - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 4 Old 12-20-2011, 03:15 PM - Thread Starter
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my dd will be 8 next month. she is very smart, very creative, and extraordinarily hard on herself if she makes any mistakes. e.g., she got 3 words wrong on a spelling test (never more than one wrong before), and was sobbing hysterically. she will sometimes whack herself in the head (rather hard) if she makes a mistake, even though i have gently urged her to not hurt herself. her teacher is very gentle, and supports my dd as best she can.


i talked with her piano teacher, because the fear of making mistakes was preventing her from practicing. she would sink to the floor and cry if she was making errors. now, she seems to accept (very reluctantly) that mistakes are part of learning piano.


i allow her to see my mistakes. i let her know that all people make mistakes, and we learn from them. please, how can i support her and allow her to be herself while not letting perfectionism cause too many problems? thank you for any ideas.

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#2 of 4 Old 12-21-2011, 11:44 AM
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Hi Kanga, nice to see you again!


My DD has perfectionist tendencies, but they show up differently.  In her case, she has the mental construct of perfect, and because she knows she can't do it, she gives a half-a$$ effort that's obvious to everyone she didn't try.  It's almost as if she's being purposely sloppy and non-attentive to protect herself from admitting she couldn't produce the perfect product.


So, since it looks a bit different in our kids, I'll write out our approach, and hopefully something will give you some ideas.  You might also want to search the gifted board for ideas.  I'm pretty sure that's where this has come up in the past.  You do seem to be doing the textbook stuff on helping a kid with perfectionism, but my kid evidently never read the textbook.


First, we've named it.  We call it perfectionism.  I had been avoid this for some reason, but evidently it is a huge topic they go over in the gifted summer camp she went to last summer.  We acknowledge perfection isn't possible, and at the same time, we discuss the things that should be close to perfect (recital performances, tests, major school projects).  Our theme -- again addressing these things from a perfectionism-causing-underperformance-effect -- has been that effort begets achievement.  100% effort, the kind that makes your brain and hand hurt and leaves you exhausted, isn't really a realistic target for day to day work and practice.  We've settled on 85% effort necessary to make progress towards our goals of allowing DD to show what she knows.  We'll reserve the 100% effort for those things that should be close to perfect.  We drew little thermometers to visualize the effort and achievement links.  I marked where I thought her cuttlefish project fell (100% on both -- it was really an amazing performance) and what low effort communicated to her teachers ("I don't care" and "I don't respect you as my teacher"), and wrote descriptions of what solid efforts looked like according to her strengths (clarity, accuracy) and weaknesses (handwriting and spelling).


We started this conversation in the summer when DD was chagrined to discover she'd forgotten her multiplication tables.  With the effort-achievement construct in front of us, we agreed that the appropriate action would be to practice multiplication for 5 minutes a day at 85% effort.  The goal was to do this every day until school started, about 35 days (=effort) and 100 problems in 5 minutes (=achievement).  She earned two separate awards for meeting each goal. 


This turned out to be an excellent demonstration for her as math is one of those things that comes easily.  We recorded and plotted her performance, and it was something like 10 days to go from 40 to 100 problems, and by the end of the summer she was doing problems at the limit of her ability to write the answers (160-170). 


Along the way, I have also introduced a process of forcing her to make statements to show coping with the situation.  It's very scripted and structured, and is anti-MDC mentally manipulative, but it seems to work.  When she gets upset over a mistake, I will ask her "big deal or little deal?"  She must answer me.  (She'll often try to not answer in her "grandma is laughing at me she's so like her mother" stubborn kinda way.)  "Little deal."  "Make a coping statement."  "I messed up but I can find an eraser/try again/no one will notice."  "I'm still learning this, but it's something I can practice."


That approach seems to be helping frame her mindset around these things, but I'm still not sure how well the approach will work or if it will ever become closer to automatic.

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#3 of 4 Old 12-21-2011, 11:55 AM
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as the mother of a perfectionist child the only answer i have to give you is age. have patience. you are doing all. 


it WILL bear fruit i promise you.


your dd sounds really intense and at 8 its all about drama. not saying it in a negative sense, but everything for my dd was THE BEST, or the worst thing that could happen to her. so her reactions might just be the reaction of the times.


keep on doing what you are doing. keep on repeating yoruself and explaining your mistakes. and hopefully one day she can cope. 


i see turning 9 has had a huge impact on dd. she has become more 'mellow' shall we say - as much as an intense child can be. 


but part of it is that you will have to accept that she is always going to freak out at her mistakes. thankfully dd doesnt take it out on school work. but man if she makes a mistake in a game - esp. if it makes her lose OH BOY!!!!! she wont try new things until she is absolutely sure she can pull it off. that is why she didnt walk till she was 17 months old  even though she knew how since she was 10 months. 

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#4 of 4 Old 01-01-2012, 01:09 PM - Thread Starter
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geo, thank you for your detailed response. it is very helpful to hear your experience. sounds like i should check the gifted board for ideas/encouragement, too.


meemee, i appreciate the feedback. this is all helpful stuff.


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