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lovinmyboys

Helping a perfectionist (and other stuff)

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My ds7 is not really academically advanced, but he shows a lot of gifted traits-especially emotionally. (He would be much more advanced, but his temperament holds him back. He learns very quickly and makes connections easily. We also spent most of last year traveling, so didn’t do a full “first grade†year.)

 

The biggest things we are dealing with right now are not wanting anything to change, not sleeping, and perfectionist tendencies. Testing is required in our state and we have been doing the testing this week. If he doesn’t know an answer, he flips out. He is also taking a drawing class (which he loves) but he gets so frustrated if his drawings don’t look how he wants them to. Any ideas on how to help him overcome his perfectionism?

 

Also, any ideas on how to get him to be able to turn his brain off so he can sleep? Melatonin works really well, but I really don’t want to do that every night.

 

Was age 7.5 a hard age for your gifted child? He was very difficult his first 5.5 years of life. The last two years were not nearly so hard (I thought he had outgrown most of that stuff), but the last couple of months have been harder. He doesn’t want to try new things, he gets so frustrated when he doesn’t do as well at something as he thinks he should, and he keeps worrying or strategizing at bedtime. Suggestions?

Edited by lovinmyboys

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For my perfectionist taking melatonin during high-anxiety times was a lifesaver for both of us. Sometimes with gifted kids the brain just won't turn off and when you are dealing with a perfectionist the thoughts running through their brains are often negative. Having a restful night sleep is so helpful for anxiety and was a top priority for me. So even though I hated giving my perfectionist melatonin, at certain stages it was all we had to save us from even worse days. 

 

Besides melatonin I allowed my perfectionist to listen to audiobooks before bed. It gave them something else to focus on besides themselves. 

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I also have a perfectionist who leans towards anxious. She is 8. To get her to sleep, I sometimes give her massages but she is learning to self-soothe through deep breathing. Exercise and being outdoors helps a lot. We also use bibliotherapy, reading books like Ish, The Gril Who Never Made Mistakes, etc.We try to applaud effort over outcome. We also don't shy away from challenges. Instead, we work through them (however long they may take). She gives me hell sometimes in not wanting to do something but then will oftentimes feel proud afterwards that it got done (while I need a nap & reboot, LOL!). It's a lot of work, dealing with this anxiety and perfectionism! However, it's likely not going to just go away on its own & it's my job as a parent to help her gain the tools she needs to manage it and feel empowered.

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I also have a perfectionist who leans towards anxious. She is 8. To get her to sleep, I sometimes give her massages but she is learning to self-soothe through deep breathing. Exercise and being outdoors helps a lot. We also use bibliotherapy, reading books like Ish, The Gril Who Never Made Mistakes, etc.We try to applaud effort over outcome. We also don't shy away from challenges. Instead, we work through them (however long they may take). She gives me hell sometimes in not wanting to do something but then will oftentimes feel proud afterwards that it got done (while I need a nap & reboot, LOL!). It's a lot of work, dealing with this anxiety and perfectionism! However, it's likely not going to just go away on its own & it's my job as a parent to help her gain the tools she needs to manage it and feel empowered.

Oh, and I am giving her more responsibility and decision-making power in other areas in order to boost her confidence. For example, she sees herself as the household pet expert plus I leave her at home alone periodically (1-2 hour), which makes her feel 'grown up'--things of that nature.

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My oldest (now 8) shares all of these traits. We also had a tough first 5.5 years (exactly) and a two year breather before things got tough again. I think it is VERY common. Her younger brother was doing OT for resistant eating and we kind of jumped on board and decided to do OT with her as well. She's working through a program called Zones of Regulation and I'm thrilled. It's a curriculum that works through building emotional self control or "regulation" and while she's hardly a different person these days I can see that she's developing coping mechanisms she would not have without the focused work. We went back and forth quite a bit about about whether her emotional issues where due solely to being gifted or if they indicated a sensory processing disorder or something. I think the OT thinks the distinction is unimportant though I imagine there are lots who would disagree. Either way she needs to learn how to cope.  She used to flip out when school didn't come easily or when she came to a single problem or question she didn't know how to answer. Also had trouble going to bed and cried last night because we're redoing the (gross, 70 year old) kitchen in our house.

 

What has helped specifically:

 

MORE work. She has always done pretty challenging school work across the board but I had slowly but surely learned to avoid suggesting we work on things that I knew would be a true challenge. I could kid myself we were working hard because she was always at or ahead of grade level. She started a University Model school two days a week this year and I have learned that she thrives when the work is very challenging indeed. There have been a lot of tears this year but I've also learned that when I push her to work through that frustration she thrives. The classes she cried about the most in the beginning are her favorites now. After Christmas I decided to supplement every subject to bring them up to the level of those classes that are her favorites. It's working. I don't know if I would have had the strength to push her on my own so I'm thankful for the outside pressure.

 

Narrating how she feels. One of the things we discovered is that she really has no idea how she feels and does not associate being "amped up" with being "about to melt down." I mention it in a matter of fact way when I feel anxious and on edge (which helps normalize the idea since she often felt guilty that she was upset due likely to perfectionism) and I tell her why I think she's feeling upset when she is. It's remarkable what a difference this makes to diffuse some situations. Others not.

 

Rewards for progress. I have only ever rewarded kids for potty training but we have scheduled and instituted rewards for time spent quietly doing her own thing. One of the problems with bedtime for her is that she hates being alone and doesn't really know how to do almost anything that is self-directed. Going to sleep is necessarily self-directed and therefore a major opportunity for anxiety because each night it happens in a slightly different way and she is the only one who can make it happen. Making a list of pleasant, calming activities and setting aside mandatory alone time during the day (incentivized with a reward)  to do those things has helped build a lot of confidence at bedtime. 

 

 

 

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In terms of calming down to sleep, we've had some success with magnesium and herbal tea and lavender essential oil mist. This may be the placebo effect (or about the ritual), because I am sure to tell my 7 year old what they do, but maybe worth a try.

 

Yes, 7.5 has been the hardest age for us yet.

 

About the perfectionism-- one thing I'd be careful about is that I've found the message about having to overcome perfectionism or stop being a perfectionist does not seem to be a productive one for the mental health of my perfectionist. It just makes her HATE that aspect of herself that she recognizes as perfectionism. So now not only does she beat herself up over mistakes, she beats herself up over beating herself up over making mistakes.

 

So the message I like a little better is that lots of people hate making mistakes, like seriously hate it and freak out inside (and often outside). We can maybe accept that perfectionism is a trait that isn't totally under our control (and isn't our fault as parents). We can do the best we can to send all the right messages, and our children can do the best they can not to flip out in public, but they are just going to be a little more intense (little more- HA!) and occasionally appalled by the fact that they are, alas, mere humans who err.  And once we've accepted that, we can perhaps stop sending the message that they would be a little more perfect if they weren't perfectionists? And we can channel that trait in a positive way?

 

I'm just free-thinking here, as I'm still struggling with this myself. The testing is a beast. I hate it. Let your kid know that there are other kids, too, who want to rip up every drawing that isn't perfect and that's a sign that he cares. And caring isn't a bad thing!

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In terms of calming down to sleep, we've had some success with magnesium and herbal tea and lavender essential oil mist. This may be the placebo effect (or about the ritual), because I am sure to tell my 7 year old what they do, but maybe worth a try.

 

Yes, 7.5 has been the hardest age for us yet.

 

About the perfectionism-- one thing I'd be careful about is that I've found the message about having to overcome perfectionism or stop being a perfectionist does not seem to be a productive one for the mental health of my perfectionist. It just makes her HATE that aspect of herself that she recognizes as perfectionism. So now not only does she beat herself up over mistakes, she beats herself up over beating herself up over making mistakes.

 

So the message I like a little better is that lots of people hate making mistakes, like seriously hate it and freak out inside (and often outside). We can maybe accept that perfectionism is a trait that isn't totally under our control (and isn't our fault as parents). We can do the best we can to send all the right messages, and our children can do the best they can not to flip out in public, but they are just going to be a little more intense (little more- HA!) and occasionally appalled by the fact that they are, alas, mere humans who err.  And once we've accepted that, we can perhaps stop sending the message that they would be a little more perfect if they weren't perfectionists? And we can channel that trait in a positive way?

 

I'm just free-thinking here, as I'm still struggling with this myself. The testing is a beast. I hate it. Let your kid know that there are other kids, too, who want to rip up every drawing that isn't perfect and that's a sign that he cares. And caring isn't a bad thing!

:iagree:

 

And to the bolded parts in particular - yes! I relate and completely agree.

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:iagree:

 

And to the bolded parts in particular - yes! I relate and completely agree.

LOL, I never thought of it this way! Food for thought then.

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My child (8) is very similar. We haven't done any testing, so I don't have any evidence that he's gifted, but the main materials I've found recognizable and useful are geared toward that population. I definitely relate to what you're struggling with. 

 

We've tried a lot of books about anxiety and perfectionism. I wish I could report otherwise, but they haven't really helped very much. I think there's an uncomfortable reality for me to grapple with here, that I myself am anxious and a perfectionist, and if I can't solve or fix these traits in myself, it's irrational to expect that my young child will be able to do so. Sometimes I think it helps him when I normalize something he struggles with, "You're the kind of kid who really wants things to be perfect on the first try, mom and dad struggle with that sometimes, too". I am trying to be extra aware of thinking out loud about my own struggles with perfectionism, and being okay with having to try again when I didn't get something right the first time.

 

It's difficult. I wish I had solutions! The one practical thing I've found that definitely helps is playing guided meditations for him at bedtime. They have really cut down on anxious bedtime rumination. He still struggles with it, but it's down to one rough night a week from every night. I like the channel New Horizons on Youtube, she has a number of bedtime meditations for kids: https://www.youtube.com/user/NewHorizonHolistic 

 

 

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