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Teaching a Little Perfectionist

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I need some encouragement/advice on teaching a very stubborn, perfectionist 6yo to read. He is clearly very smart, and he can decode letter sounds just fine. He can also sound out words, but it's like pulling teeth. At this point it's really a matter of practice, I think, but he won't practice because he is such a perfectionist that he's terrified of making a mistake.


I've tried as many ways as I know how to communicate that it is okay to make mistakes--everyone makes them and that's how we learn. But he is really resisting it.


We went through something similar with math, and what turned that around was ditching the curriculum that worked great for his older brother (Miquon) and allowing him to choose something entirely different (McRuffy). I think having ownership of the curriculum choice really helped, as well as the fact that it was not something he had seen his brilliant older brother use. So yesterday I pulled up a couple of choices of reading curricula and asked him which one he'd like to try. He selected 100 Easy Lessons (older brother used Ordinary Parents' Guide). I'm hoping that will be a turning point for him.


But any other advice or words of wisdom? I'm sure I'm not the only parent who's been through this. Is it just going to be a matter of time? I'm already being as low pressure as I can; should I just stop trying to teach him to read altogether and wait for him to volunteer? If I do that, how do I handle standardized tests or evaluations (we live in VA and have to submit one or the other at the end of the year)?



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I have 2 perfectionists. The perfectionist needs to feel confident. There are 2 ways that you can do this.


Break down the task to its most basic elements and practice those elements.

I have been using Spell to Write and Read to teach reading. I love how the program really breaks down the skills for reading. We do phonogram flashcards, and ds5 loves this, because he is really good at it. Then he has to write the phonograms. This is really hard for him. So I start with having him just copy the phonogram. Then I give a "flash" and take it away while he writes. With this approach, he can eventually write the phonogram without seeing the card.


For blending, we play a game in which we "glue" words together and "unglue" words. I give him the parts of a word, and he puts them together into a word. (This is all oral.) Or I gather a basket of items and ask him to find each one, but I give the separate phonogram sounds. (For example, find the /k/ /a/ /t/.) He has to blend those sounds together to figure out what I want. Then I have him to it to me so that he has to pull the words apart.


Ds5 has a very strong tendency to memorize words, and his reading seems very advanced. But he still struggles with sounding out new words. We have to continue to work on these basic skills until they become his primary mode of reading. However, I would not ask him to read whole sentences until he can read single words.



Over-emphasize successes while de-emphasizing failures.

You have to find a way to reward him for trying even when he does not feel confident, and even when he gets it wrong. This has been really hard when we have been working on handwriting. I use mini-chocolate chips. He gets a chip when he tries, whether he did it right or not. If he doesn't try, then we stop the lesson. I know that this would totally backfire with most kids, but this is pretty devastating to both of my perfectionists. They will beg me to try again, but they are too emotional at that point. We pick it back up the next day, and I inevitably get more effort out of them and more willingness to take the risk that they will be wrong.


You have to try to be really enthusiastic and not focus on the skill so much as the effort. I know that is really hard when you know you are supposed to be working on the 3 R's at this stage. But first an foremost, you must train your dc to take academic risks and not be paralyzed by fear and anxiety over being wrong, or they teaching/learning will always be next to impossible.

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My son is a perfectionist and I was one too! I spent a lot of the day telling him every time I made a small error. We also talked about people like Thomas Edison who tried so many times to invent something before something worked. I also celebrated successes and we discussed how hard he worked to earn that success and how it was worth the effort, even though he had to make mistakes in the process. Eventually, he saw that hard work pays off and he is doing better (not completely, but a substantial improvement).


You need to really be careful with perfectionists because they tend to develop the idea that if they can't do something perfectly, they won't do it. This has been a huge obstacle in my life! It is very difficult to overcome as an adult.


Just keep things positive. it might be that he just needs a few weeks off and then a fresh start. That has worked wonders for me sometimes!

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Just some encouragement that time usually does help:


when my youngest was 5 or 6, she used to insist that she couldn't read, when I knew very well she could. it was a puzzle! then one day she rattled off some difficult words she saw out of context (not in a book; maybe in a store?).


I said, see, you CAN read a lot of words! and she replied, no, I didn't READ those, I just KNEW them. :001_rolleyes:


She had somehow decided that struggling to decode was 'reading,' and knowing them straight off didn't count. Yes, dear, fluency is bad, lol!

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My DD5 is just like this too! She will "sound out" new words in her head, and then just shrug her shoulders if she doesn't think what she has come up with is correct. However, if you tell her the word first, she usually doesn't have to be reminded when she sees it again. This isn't really reading, and though she has a lot of (and some massive) sight words, she still can't sit down with even most "easy readers" and do it herself because there are just still too many unknown words that she won't try sounding out. We are going to attempt both AAS and AAR Level 1 next year and see if that helps her to feel more confident, but other than doing ETC (which turns into sight words fairly quickly rather than reading) and BOB Books at bedtime with dad (which she flys through) we haven't done any real reading program.

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