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Dealing with Perfectionism in the GIfted Child

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#1 lovinmomma


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Posted 29 July 2013 - 06:14 AM

Those of you that have gifted or advanced children: how do you deal with perfectionism? My son gets very down on himself when he doesn't do something perfectly. For instance, he is talented in sports, language arts, and math, but not so much in the creative artsy way. So, if he's trying to do an art project and it's not perfect he gets very upset and crumples it up and throws it away mumbling about how horrible he is at drawing (or whatever). The same goes for his school work, though. If he misses even one problem he is very hard on himself. Typically, his mistakes are from lack of concentration. Either writing the answer in the wrong place or forgetting to answer the question (ADD). Anyways, ds just seems to be really hard on himself when he doesn't do something perfectly. I've been told that this is common with gifted or advanced children. Any wisdom on how to deal with it?

#2 dmmetler


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Posted 29 July 2013 - 08:38 AM

It's a work in progress. For DD, it helps that she's not athletic. Tumbling and cheerleading are areas where she really has to work, and where she's not going to be perfect, but where she's able to set a goal (like getting her back handspring) and work towards it.


Competitions have also helped her-specifically, the ones where almost NO ONE gets everything right, and a good score might well be less than 50% correct. Getting to an appropriate challenge level in her strong areas has helped her combat the perfectionism. Ultimately, what I've learned is that too easy is emotionally damaging to her. She needs to be at a level where she's expected to make mistakes, and she needs to see others struggling and making mistakes-and those others need to be people she can see as peers. Competitions attract those super-gifted in that area kids. I'm also letting her do more online classes at her level for the same reason, even though they're an expensive way to homeschool a subject.



We also really read and look at mistakes. Lots of books and biographies and autobiographies and movies.  I love the movie "Meet the Robinsons" (which isn't the most popular Disney movie-but is a great one for discussing mistakes and recovery from mistakes) for this purpose-because the protagonist is an extremely gifted kid who...well...makes mistakes. I think Monster University will be another one to buy and pull out as needed for discussion, because, ultimately, it's a movie about trying, failing, and picking yourself up, and Mike, as the main character, never succeeds at his goal at all.


It's definitely a work in progress-but I have seen improvement, slowly.  Hopefully, you will too.

#3 go_go_gadget


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Posted 29 July 2013 - 09:04 AM

We're in a slightly privileged position in this, because my husband and I are both students ourselves (he in physics, and I in math), so we very purposefully narrate our mistakes in our work, which has helped a bit. We've been working in the physics lab this summer (and bringing the kids with us), so they've seen firsthand how much time is spent thinking, rethinking, fixing mistakes, etc. Obviously not every homeschooling parent can replicate that precisely, but as dmmetler said, pointing out the mistakes (especially the ones that inadvertently lead to great things) that other people make and recover from is applicable to any family. A book called _Brilliant Blunders_ was just released on that topic. I also tell them, every time they lose it because they missed one little thing, that if they answer everything perfectly the first time, we've just wasted our time because they didn't learn anything. 

#4 MinivanMom


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Posted 29 July 2013 - 01:36 PM

I think dealing with perfectionism is an ongoing process.  We try to focus really hard on effort versus intrinsic ability.  When we compliment our children it is always specific and always focused on what they are doing (versus a vague "You're so smart!").   We try to make sure our children understand that we value them unconditionally for who they are rather than what they achieve.


We also try to be sure they are being challenged.  I find that working beneath their abilities makes the perfectionism much worse.  If the task is too easy then they have nothing else to expend mental energy on but perfection.  In contrast, working right in that "zone of proximal development" makes the perfectionism fade into the background.


Then we talk!  We talk a lot about how many years of hard work it takes to really become good at something.  We point out the many mistakes or wrong turns scientists make before making a great discovery.  We talk about how many sketches an artist might throw away before ending up with one he likes. 


Finally, we check our own attitudes.   I can't help my child master perfectionism if (secretly in my heart) I would love for him to be perfect.  Kids are very savvy about sensing these things.  As parents it is very easy to get caught up in our children's achievements.  We may say it doesn't need to be perfect, but we may be inadvertently projecting a much different attitude towards our children.  Sometimes I find that I need to be aware of my own tone and be sure that I'm not focusing on the wrong things.

#5 basketcase


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Posted 29 July 2013 - 05:58 PM

Piano lessons have been great for us - kid can't play it perfectly the first time and wanders off pouting? Whenever I can, I use that as a moment to teach practice techniques and success AFTER work. Often after just working on a section properly for a few minutes, the kid can play it well.

We had problems with anger over art with one child. Ed Emberly books were great - anything that breaks down that impossible thing into smaller goals.

I agree with everyone that it's a long battle! But we've seen a lot of progress at our house.