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Perfectionism and the preschooler


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Hi, all.


The bigger kids are doing great with school, but my preschooler is struggling seriously with perfectionism.


He's a great little guy, but he's definitely the type that falls apart if any little thing goes wrong. He's always been that way. Lucky me, right?


He is so excited about doing preschool a few mornings a week, but when we sit down to do it he just can't do it. Coloring is a big no. If he crosses the lines even just a bit, he falls apart. Tracing short lines with a crayon...again he can't take it if the crayon goes off the dotted line at all.


So far preschool has looked like me reading out loud to him. :D


Is he just not ready? He's almost 4. The other two kids just ate up little activities like this much younger than he is.


Even if he is too young, I can't see his perfectionism going away as he grows. How do you teach a kid that it's okay if everything doesn't always come out perfect?


Thanks for any insight!

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We do a lot of "it's okay. You can try again". I make sure to reinforce trying again and showing her it's okay to make mistakes. I let her see me make mistakes


DD just turned 4 and I a perfectionist. More on the self driven way. If she can't do it right, she won't do it. It's this way with reading, writing, etc.


I would maybe build his confidence by letting him do things he's great at? Take it easy. He's really young.

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I remind her, over an over (and over) that 'it's ok if it's not perfect'. Now, when she sees me getting frustrated, she says the same back to me!


Lots of patience, and activities that have no failure (open ended toys, finger tracing cards for letters). Oh, and things like puzzles where there is no 'failure' perse, just 'haven't finished it yet'. My perfectionist would spend hours on puzzles for awhile there. 

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I let DD watch me fail. And then try again. 


I let her see me try to build something, and need to ask for help.  I let her see a new recipe not quite work out.  And we talk about it. 


She still needs things perfect, and gets sad/angry when they aren't.  But I think modeling failure is important.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Some suggestions from a teacher of 3s at a preschool (so YMMV)--


See first what stage of writing he is in, and how he is holding his crayon. Check his fine motor strength. Work on that first--open ended stuff, like sensory bins (check out Counting Coconuts blog and pinterest), small world play, dress up clothes that have real buttons/zippers/buckles, Montessori-based trays that have transfering/tongs/tweezers work, play dough and clay, free painting with a small brush and a large brush, routines like taking out his plate and glass to the sink after dinner and putting clothes away/folding hand towels/sweeping the kitchen with a small broom/polishing silver.


Instead of coloring in the lines, give him a clipboard and unlined paper to draw whatever he wants--and at his age, most kids don't draw anything, as they are just beginning very simple shapes and experimenting with lines and marks. Pictoral drawing doesn't appear until 4.5 for many kids. No tracing or coloring books yet. Lots of collages (red collage, circles to glue--and other shapes, nature things he finds outside), lots of paint (print with objects like your potato masher, or a cork, or a scrub brush; free paint on different kinds of paper like newsprint/foil/paper towels), lots of outside time (dig, walk, gather leaves, mold snow in bowls and turn over, wrap a stick with yarn). Play dough. Cooking--and have him tell you the steps you did, and you write it down and then you read it back to him.


All those sorts of activities will encourage bravery and experimentation. Leave the workbooks, the crafts, the things he needs to do a certain way in order to be successful. Just dump 'em for now. Try to teach instead of quizzing. Try to laugh and loosen up.

Edited by Chris in VA
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