Does anyone out there have any helpful ideas / tips on how to deal with perfectionism? My 6 year old son is so hard on himself and would rather not attempt to do something because there is a chance he may not win or get something right. This morning we were going over his spelling list (for a Spellathon at school), but before long, when the words were getting slightly harder and he wasn't getting them all right, he would just scribble all over the page and get angry at ME, because I was being annoying and its my fault for making him get it wrong etc etc.... He will happily kick a ball around with people, but once it turns into a proper game and points are involved, he won't participate. I'm all for having a good sense of healthy competition and wanting win, but its anothing thing when that person won't attempt anything - just in case they don't (win).
Tried telling him that NO-ONE can be the best at EVERYTHING, that is just impossible, we're only human, nobody's perfect etc etc, we ALL make mistakes and that its ok to make mistakes as that is how we learn. I asked him this morning after he cooled off whether getting angry had fixed his problem. He just said yes, I got angry and I just walk away and not do it anymore. To me, this is not healthy. His standard are just too high! Any help would be much appreciated!!!!
We get this everyday, with the same age group. I think at our house it is borne from utter frustration, and we get YELLED at, especially for making noise and disturbing him causing his perceived failures. Usually no one is making no noise, and we have pointed out the noise is coming from himself. Countless amounts of paper get screwed up and thrown around etc.
This is my youngest and I now know that for him, cuddles do not work, talking reasonably does not work - in fact doing these things makes it worse. I think at our house it is due to utter frustration and that the responses from him are irrational. Now I think that's OK, I too am irrational when I am frustrated but hopefully I do not act out as much ;-)
These days I leave the room and wait for it to blow over, it is something he will learn to cope with himself in time. We try to deal with it later when he is feeling rational and the initial heat has blown over. It's not easy to walk away. But from my eldest I have learnt that it will improve as he learns to cope better and in this case motor skills improve with age. Well that is the hope anyway...
We had the same problem at that age which coincidentally was the age we had ds tested - our lovely tester at the time suggested a great idea that worked well for us, we had what we called "upside down days" where we attempted to do everything wrong, and in the wrong order starting with the likes of icecream for breakfast as an example. She also suggested that we 'try' really hard at home to 'lead by example' i.e. not be perfectionists ourselves (which was really diffiult).
Good luck, just a couple of suggestions
Thanks Rachelle & Marshe for replying! I know I am a bit of a perfectionist and try really hard to "not sweat the small stuff" (actually I think I'm getting better as I get older - well, since having kids anyway :o).
Love the idea of upside down days Marshe! He would love that. He sometimes plays the clown and will very occassionally come out of his room with his undies on his head or pj top on his legs etc, so he's fine with some things that are not quite "right". Its usually just when it comes to his performance (ie games with points, or spelling). He refused to do the school duathalon, after 2 weeks of surf life saving decided he didn't want to participate in the races but would do the other activities. Even playing a game of snap is somewhat of a struggle for him (if he's not winning that is!).
I guess like anything else we are trying to learn, it just takes time (some longer than others).
I really empathise as my 9 (nearly 10 year old) is just the same, always has been. It affects all areas of his life, he gave up on all sports he tried, soccer, hockey, athletics, karate (though we'd insist he finished the season). Thought the karate would improve his self-esteem but no, there were too many rules and he hated getting even the slightest thing wrong. He doesn't want to do any sports now, though I'm thrilled he now will play handball consistently at school breaks. He hates school, and all related things, like spelling and maths tests. He even gets frustrated drawing (which he loves to do) as he is so hard on himself, and it "just looks stupid" according to him. We get lots of blow ups and rages. Hates games like chess (which he learnt so quickly and could be so good at), monopoly, guess who, due to hating loosing (so much for family games night - it's more like family video night instead).
I felt the same I want him to benefit from coping with healthy competition, being driven to use all his talents and gifts. He currently plays piano which he enjoys (but hated the latest piano assessment as he "just wants to play the music not do the tests".
I think maybe time does help, he's slowly finding things he likes to spend his time doing (like finding sheet music on the internet for him to learn at his leisure, handball, writing his own stories, playing with lego), but still has lots of outbursts.
Stay strong, it's not your fault, know that there are alot of us dealing with the same thing. I'm applying to send him to One Day School, and try to seek out open-ended activities that will not put pressure on him, like reading, bike riding, pool visits. Good luck, and lots of deep breathing!
Thanks for your message Andrea, nice to know there are others out there like him! I've taken him to a couple of karate lessons just to trial it and he loves it! However.......even after 2 lessons, he was using his karate moves on us and his brother - even Nana when she told him off for something! sigh.
He's been to Iconz twice now and just loves it. Think it falls under the Boys Brigade banner. Last night they played a few indoor rowdy boys games and then they all went outside to use hobo ovens and cooked sausages on them. Next week they are off down to an estuary at low tide to get mucky and throw water bombs at each other (think that's a session for Dad.....) But at least he's actually joining in the games where as the first time he went he'd just sit it out.
Thought I might take both boys (he has a brother 14months younger than him) to swimming lessons as it's not really competitive. The school kids are practicing for the x-country run which will be in a few weeks. Be interesting to see if he actually does it this time, as he's a bit more settled in school.
Good luck with your son. Hope he finds some other things that interest him.
My boy did Karate for 1 1/2 yrs, but there was lots to memorize so that was too much work when he just wanted down time after school (that was a shame, he got up to blue belt but then was adamant he wanted to give it away - he's still not interested in going back). Maybe your son's karate instructor could address the class about how you are not to use karate moves on siblings! Could be more effective coming from the sensei.
He also did cubs for about a year, he really enjoyed the camp they went on too, but he ended up finding cubs "boring" unfortunately. He loved doing the hobo stoves too! He found other children tended to take over group tasks like building huts in the forest or other set tasks, so was left out a bit, and again he thought what he created wasn't very good. Swimming lessons are always a good idea, essential really, but for a perfectionist like our sons, don't be surprised if he complains about that too, as they have constant coaching and our sensitive sons see that as constant criticism or again them not being able to do it right. Or in my sons case also, he thinks he already knows how to do it so why bother keeping on doing lessons (he hasn't got the breathing part sussed tho).
We have finally got to the point this year that he had the confidence to want to do the Australian academic competition in spelling and was happy with his Distinction grade. Also University on Wheels is a great thing to tap into as your son grows.
Oh what a shame your boy didn't finish karate. But (as you probably know), when they've made their mind up, there's not much you can do to change it!). When he did the karate lessons it was really emphasised about the rules on when and when you can't use karate - especially not on family members! But when he gets in a tiz, it all goes out the window...
Regarding swimming, I hadn't thought of that - about him feeling criticised when coached. He already thinks he's the best swimmer ever in the whole universe. Still, might look into it.
That's great news about your son being confident enough to enter a competition. Long may it last!
Just out of interest, how old was he when he started piano lessons? My boy is very unco-ordinated (hence, another reason he doesn't want to participate in sports), but has got a pretty good ear for music. He loves music and is always singing. Could be another avenue.....
Well here I am offering advice as if we had solved all the problems - it turns out this last week I have discovered we are still having major perfectionism issues - he just was not at all interested in doing his speech this year - even though he got into the finals last year, believes he won't win so no point doing it.
Like your boys he too has tried everything and given up everything - especially sports, done soccer 3 years, tae kwon do 1 year, basketball, and hip hop for 1 year, as well as swimming for about 4 years, and yes he complained about that too. I have given up pushing him to do sports that he just doesn't like, but am worried because he is tubby and needs to move, so not sure what to do there.
He learnt piano for 2 years and then moved on to guitar which he has done for the last 2 years, I have just discovered he didn't go into the music competition last week, I assumed beause his teacher didn't put him forward but he has just told me that he opted not to go in it - because he felt he needed to be better at it first!!! Hmmm infuriating - I thought he had no drive to succeed or no competitive bone in his body - but am starting to realise it is the perfectionism coming out again.
Oh and yes he did Iconz for two years and then got bored with that too. He did One Day School for a little while and have attended a few Uni on Wheels (however they keep getting cancelled due to not enough kids - very frustrating). At the moment he is doing chess on a weekly basis and really enjoying that - I find the things he does really like to do i.e. Bubbledome holiday programmes, and robotics - are very very expensive!
Any more ideas on dealing with perfectionism welcome here too
But when I think about it I am exactly the same - don't stick with things for too long as I get bored very very easily.
Oh Marshe I guess I've got that all ahead of me. How old is your boy? At least he's tried a few different things (which is more than i can say for mine....)
Literally just had a conversation with my boy about the x-country run next week. Asked him if he was actually going to do the run on the day and that I'd come to watch him if he did it but wouldn't bother if he wasn't going to run. He said he would. I told him if he did the run to the end, no matter where he came, even if he came last, he would get a treat. So we'll see how that goes! lol. It's not called bribery, it's called "rewarding"!!!
Does your boy like climbing at all? I'm convinced mine is half monkey (very active). Thinking of taking him to the rock house (inside rock-climbing) one day soon, but am guessing that might be a tad expensive in the long run, unless they do concessions!
I also had a conversation with him earlier this morning about partaking in sports/activities that require scoring. He said he hated it but so I told him to look at it as "practice" until he gets better and better the more he does it. I think he got it. But we'll see....
Hope things improve Marshe!
My ds is 10 and we have tried so many things - he's just not sporting, and no doesn't like climbing (he's too heavy really) he has cousins that are monkeys and just don't stop moving, but he is not an active type at all - he absolutely hates x-country more than anything else and we have real issues when that comes up at school - doesn't mind orienteering which they have just done at school as it has meaning (and yes we even tried this as a family activity a few years ago too!!!).
He recently told me of a few 'rewards' that kids in his class get when they achieve well (i.e. one girl in his class won the music competition two years in a row and then the speeches last year - she apparently got an ipod touch for this) I was blown away and realised that maybe there needs to be some sort of reward system - every child has a currency, I'm just not sure how I feel about this!!! But I really feel I need to find something to get him motivated. I feel so frustrated that we can't find something that he just LOVES - most kids have something!
I think rewards might go a long way as an incentive. And it doesn't have to be expensive (like an iPod touch!!!). My son's currency is food. He's very lean, and so that's an easy reward. Perhaps your son's reward could be a certain outing, or a certain toy he's been hinting at. Try not to look at it in a negative light. I did "The Incredible Years" parenting course last year and they are big on rewards. As long as the child does the desired behaviour/action first before you give the reward, it's not called bribery. Bribery is when you give someone something first to intice them to do something.
If you are worried about him needing to be more active, has he tried archery or go karting? Not terribly active, actually these activities would build up core strength, but at least it's a start?
Yes my boys currency would be food too - unfortunately he's not lean, so we struggle with this.
He has tried archery and shooting when at day events and really enjoyed them and yes I think when he hits college they may well be his sport of choice - unfortunately not able to get him to those at this stage - he really needs something to keep him active (ie burn calories!). I don't stress about him doing sport as such because I know when he's at college he will find something (like archery), it's the lack of activity that worries me at his age:(
I know your boy is young, and this isn't really relevant at this stage, but I have a relatively inactive (computer geek) 12 year old son who is uncoordinated, isn't a 'natural' at sport and just isn't interested.
He has recently got a paper round (primary motivator being income), and he is spending an hour a day cycling. His motor skills have improved, the muscles in his legs are developing and he's losing a bit of weight.
If your son's currency is food, how about some 1:1 time teaching him how to cook and you can discuss nutrition at the same time? Cooking is also good to teach him that you don't have to be perfect for it to turn out OK.
Marshe, does he or anyone else in the family have a bike/scooter? Perhaps the family could go for bike rides in the weekend? Or bush walks/hikes. Maybe just going to the school batting cages to whack the ball around. If the activity is done by the whole family, would he be more likely to do it? Other things that spring to mind are paintball, frisbee, rollerblading, shooting hoops, pogo stick, or just games with other kids that involve a lot of movement like tag, spotlight, go home stay home etc.
Would he be interested in learning carpentry? No one has all the right answers, especially me! Hope you and he can find something. All the best. I'll possibly be going through this in a few years ;o)
Omg! My 4 year old is going through this. She gets so frustrated with learning as she can't do it perfectly. Dance, violin and just being physical with her friends. The only thing I have been able to continue is piano because I play and did use bribery for practice. I was hoping that she would learn that not everything is easy and that you have to practice, but I don't have the paience for that frustrations. I just don't know how we will cope when we start school. Any help with toddlers about to start school will be greatly appreciated.
Just to throw into the mix, there is a very good chapter on perfectionism in lLiving with Intensity' by Susan Daniels and Michael Pieoswski (sorry have lent the book so can't check the spelling on the surname). Whilst dealing with the frustrations that go with perfectionism, it also supports the notion of perfection as very valid, not to be discouraged or talked down. I agree with the idea of letting things evolve - 'blow over' - in other words, these 'edges' that we come up against are important to push through with and really can only be done by the individual, so my guess would be not to necessarily disagree with your son outwardly (even if you do) but let him know you realise how frustrating it is, but also point out that being very good at things is a very worthwhile quality to aim for. There is a theory the book touches on called positive disintegration, which supports the idea that when turmoil persists that is an indication that the person is undergoing an important internal change in their authentic development, same goes for anxiety (which my boy is currently struggling with) - its an indication they are breaking important new ground. They need empathy to help them through those hard graft times, but not to be undermined by suggesting they need to somehow ‘change’ the way they find themselves reacting to life, Hope that makes sense!
Hi, I also have two perfectionist sons (aged 3 & 8)...seems to be a common trait for gifted kids. We have been working with them on this for years. Some days it seems to be going okay, and others are a complete struggle!
Just a couple of ideas off the top of my head of things that seem to be working for us:
- we read a lot of biographies of people who have achieved after years of struggle; Thomas Edison and John Brittan are two good ones that spring to mind. Afterwards we talk about how many times these people had to fail before they succeeded, and how important the mistakes that they made were to their learning process.
-with competitive sport (obviously talking about my older son here!), we give him personal (achieveable) goals to work on during the game. Things like "today your goal is to touch the ball five times and make 3 'rips' (rippa rugby)". After the game we praise how he went with these goals, rather than focusing on scoring tries, winning the game or comparing to other children. He actually comes up with his own goals now, and we can see him keeping a running tally of how he is going during the game.
- we talk a lot about mistakes that we have made ourselves, and try to model positive ways of dealing with these, talking about what we have learned etc etc. Sometimes feels a bit fake, but the kids seem to quite enjoy hearing about our stuff ups!
- lots of praise for effort and perseverance, rather than the end result.
That's enough for now - I will watch with interest for any other ideas. It is one of those constant things that I think we will be working on for many years yet, but it is very rewarding when you see some progress, no matter how small!
To author 'calm' - well said, great ideas, I have copied pasted your thread to remind me to use them. Realising the more I read this thread, the more it relates to my son as well. Just hitting intermediate he is scared stiff of doing anything wrong or making mistakes etc. Its such a tricky balance, to validate their experience without entrenching them in it, and giving strategies and 'wise words'. A friend recently shared how she and her sons come up with acronyms and short phrases, code words etc to remind them of using the strategies they come up with - she has them beautifully pinned up on their bedroom walls. Making it simple to remember - repetition until it becomes automatic to their thinking.
Another idea for kids who struggle with team sports due to perfectionist issues (my 7 year old is GT and struggles with it a lot), is gymnastics. Our Paediatric Occupational Therapist (special interest in GT kids) suggested it and my son really likes it. We go to Olympia Gym in Christchurch for their recreational class and it's great, good value for money too. We also go bike riding together and in the winter skiing (somewhat more expensive though!). Swimming is great but all other team sports we've tried have ended in tears week after week after week.....