Supporting a bright perfectionist who gives up if there's a risk of failure

(55 Posts)
poachedeggs Fri 13-Sep-13 12:35:09

DS is 6, and has never been a risk taker. He's cautious, sensitive and loves rules. He's just gone into primary 2 (he's 6) and he's finding some of the handwriting really tough going. The school are strong on basic literacy and the teachers are pushing the pupils to work hard this term, which I'm fully supportive of, but he's really feeling the pressure. I've spoken to his teacher and she's aware of this.

The thing is, he's bright (according to teachers, not just me!) but if he can't do something easily he gets frustrated, tearful and anxious, so he's struggling to develop a work ethic. I was the bright kid at school and very similar in that I lost confidence in myself, and it's held me back all my life. I want him to learn now how to deal with challenges, for his own good.

At the moment I'm flooding him with relentless positivity, using examples like riding his bike, reading and swimming, all things he used to find hard when learning but is now good at. I've explained that if something's hard he can make it easier by practising, and that it's OK to fail. But as a perfectionist myself it's difficult to be objective.

I'd be really grateful for any experiences, tips or ideas on how to help him learn to have confidence in himself and to persevere.

Acinonyx Fri 13-Sep-13 13:59:58

I've got one just like this and I'm still working on it. I've had some occasional successes by using examples of things I didn't start off doing well, for example I found some scribbling of mine from early childhood and dd was impressed with my inability to draw properly whereas I can now. Not that I want to encourage you to lie - but could you present an example of your own horrible handwriting now so much improved with practice?

Our big headache is arithmetic <<bangs head off wall just thinking about practicing tables>>

kkoo Fri 13-Sep-13 14:08:23

Wow - this could be me! Only my dd is 5 and just starting year one so I'm a step or two behind you. She won't try in swimming class - and cheats (walks through the water! cheeky), gets very upset about cycling, even with stabilisers, fear of failure is huge!
I will look forward to the responses.

MrsTruper Fri 13-Sep-13 14:15:04

My dd was/is just like that at around the same age. Much less so now though (she is 8). I think it might be partly a developmental phase, and partly in the genes (I am one too!)

You are tackling it in a similar way to me, and it did work.

I did 'make' my dd persevere at home, rather than give up (piano frustration and doing 'perfect' homework was her thing). I read somewhere that you can get into a vicious circle if you let the tears stop you finishing the work, as the child realises if they get tearful then the work can be postponed.

Now my dd knows that if she controls her frustration and stays calm she will finish the job sooner. She has learnt to do "good enough" work. (Took 2 years though, and an affirmation written on her bedroom wall!).

Good luck.

evertonmint Fri 13-Sep-13 14:22:09

This is my DS - age 5, Year 1. He does hugely well in any spoken situation, where he can share his knowledge or learn things so is clearly bright in that sense, but any physical skill is an area of huge stress for him - reading, writing, bike riding, swimming, drawing, tree climbing etc. He doesn't try until he knows he's good at something because he hates failing and wants to be perfect, which is hugely frustrating with something like reading where you have to practise and practise and practise to get it (I'm still learning words 30-odd years after starting!)

Bike riding is the big thing for him at the moment - his friends are all off stabilisers and he will barely ride his with because he doesn't think he can do it, so won't as he doesn't want to be rubbish, so can't because he doesn't try, so can't keep up with his friends, so would rather just stay on his scooter. He also has a fiercely independent streak so won't let us help him at all.

Because he won't apply himself to learning as he's scared to fail, he's not actually learning how to be tenacious and if there is one thing I don't want, it is a child who won't try his best or is lazy. So this is what is worrying me.

He occasionally makes sudden breakthroughs - he taught himself to swim on holiday last year, taught himself to snorkel on holiday this year, has made promising huge leaps in his maths recently. But reading and bike-riding: aaaargh! And if he learned to apply himself and take failure on the chin as part of learning, he would be learning two valuable skills - the skill he's focusing on, and the skill of working hard. How do I get him to see this when all he sees is "I can't do it first time so I won't try until I can"

This is my DS too. Has always been like this. Didn't walk or talk till he could do it perfectly. Finds reading hard, but we are working on explaining that he will only get better by practice.

Likewise with pp, he will not try that hard at swimming. I think he is not reaching his potential as he won't try at things.

neolara Fri 13-Sep-13 14:32:29

You need to read this. It will explain exactly what is going on for your ds and exactly what you need to do about it.

poachedeggs Fri 13-Sep-13 15:59:32

Well it seems I should be grateful that he's come on with the physical stuff. It hasn't been without a bit of frustration but he's gaining confidence steadily in that respect.

It just seems that with anything new he defaults to panic "can't do it" mode. He's been upset about being unable to do joined-up writing but they only started this on Monday! He still sometimes makes mistakes with letter formation so he is a long way off effortless handwriting, which is a fact I wish he'd accept so we can work on it.

It is really helpful to hear from others in this situation, thank you very much. I don't want to be a pushy parent but I think probably with DC like this you have got to be firm and make them do things sad

FreckleyGirlAbroad Fri 13-Sep-13 16:40:31

neolara has just said what I was going to say. During my teacher training I did some research on extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and read a lot about Carol Dweck and what she has researched on fixed and growth mindsets. Sounds like your ds fits perfectly into the fixed mindset group.

poachedeggs Fri 13-Sep-13 20:57:46

I've done a bit of googling and skimmed through a couple of papers on praise, and it comes right around to Kohn and conditional parenting, doesn't it? LOTS of food for thought.

WafflyVersatile Fri 13-Sep-13 21:02:39

Are you praising effort rather than results or saying he is good at this or a good boy for doing something right?

you worked really really hard at learning to ride a bike and it's really worth the effort isn't it because you love riding your bike. you really tried hard even if you fell off and I was proud of how you didn't give up.

that sort of thing?

poachedeggs Fri 13-Sep-13 21:08:15

I'm trying to focus on effort. Reminding him of things he's done that were hard but which he succeeded at with effort. It's really difficult though, praise sort of falls out without me thinking about it sometimes. Doesn't help that I'm a dreadful people pleaser, a sucker for praise and perfectionist in the extreme. I need to look at me as much as DS I think.

TeenAndTween Sat 14-Sep-13 15:03:29

I agree with waffly, praise the effort not results.

I see you are trying really hard with that.
Wow, you've perservered on that for ages.
Look at how XXX is practicing kicking that ball.
You used interesting words in that story

Try not to say

You're so clever for doing that
Look you got all your spelling right in that story

Longtallsally Sat 14-Sep-13 15:17:05

Ooh this is me and my ds too. It sounds silly but he came through it himself in the end, aged about 8, when he was playing a computer based game that he found hard, but wanted to -beat- -his- -friend- play so badly that he kept on practising until he got it. I vividly remember that he sat, with tears streaming down his cheeks, teeth gritted and kept going until he got it sorted. It was hard to watch, as a) it was just a game, and not worth getting upset over, but b) he was battling that instinct to give up and avoid it, and just wouldn't let himself. (I kept wondering what the MN advice would be! "But he his hour on the computer is nearly up. Should I pull the plug now?!) I let him keep going and also managed to praise him for his effort rather than for the outcome on that occasion, as it was sooooo bloody obvious, and it set a really useful example for him for anything else that he found difficult.

So IME as long as you are aware of this trait in him, and in yourself, he will find new things that he wants to achieve and you will probably be able to talk to him about it as he gets older. He may well grow through it, with your help, and a little nudging along the way.

Periwinkle007 Sat 14-Sep-13 15:17:36

I have 1 like this, 2nd one shaping up to be similar but not quite so extreme (less violent and aggressive or hysterical)

I have no advice at all, quite frankly it makes me feel like I must be a terrible mother because I am obviously getting something seriously wrong

poachedeggs Sat 14-Sep-13 16:15:05

Peri I think if you're anything like me part of the blaming yourself is your own personality and part of it is because our actions in dealing with it quite obviously exacerbate things.

I don't think it makes us terrible mothers. I think there's room for improvement though <making a big effort to look at life this way now!>

hillian Sat 14-Sep-13 16:25:00

Ds1 is a bit like this and it is a recognised problem in very bright children. it is called perfectionism. It makes the person miserable and it can lead to severe underperformance.
Boosting their self confidence all the time seems to be part of the solution.
Disclaimer: I haven't got it right yet. I am still groping my in the dark.

Google perfectionism or read about on the potentialplus website and you'll get better explanations than I can give.

pointythings Sat 14-Sep-13 18:45:07

DD1 was like this in YR3. She'd stare at a piece of work, panic about not doing it well enough for a long time, then rattle off something in desperation which was still well above average but short of what she could do. We tackled it in collaboration with DD's class teacher, who was amazing and taught my DD that you learn by failing at things, not by succeeding at them every time. I'd second going along with praising effort, identifying progress however small and also emphasising that handwriting develops as you get older and keeps changing - as long as he works hard and produces legible work, he's doing fine.

poachedeggs Sat 14-Sep-13 19:21:32

We've just spent half an hour going through Google images talking about neurones and how they get stronger and make more connections when you make mistakes and practise things. He was captivated, I was really surprised how interested he was, and how encouraging he found the concept that mistakes help him grow more. There's an app called "Ned the Neuron" although unfortunately it's only available for iPhone. Anyway, that seemed to be an approach to understanding learning which he's very open to.

I think it'll all get easier as term goes on. He's really tired and emotional just now, trying to take in new things and it's all a bit much. I feel like I have direction to help him with this too, thanks smile

This brings back so many horrible memories for me.

I have zero work ethic, am a terrible procrastinator, rubbish at meeting deadlines / setting myself targets. On paper I have massively underachieved. I get by because I am very bright and stubborn and I have a good memory. It's a terrifying place to be.

Throughout my childhood I was told off for coasting, told I didn't try hard enough, was told I was not meeting my potential etc. I was rewarded entirely on the result rather than the amount of effort I put in. My parents said things like "98%? What happened to the other 2%?" I chose the easiest work available rather than the most interesting as the thought of not getting the highest mark was much worse than doing something dull that I knew I could do.

My experience ties in with all the research cited by Kohn / done by Dreck. For this reason I try very hard to unconditionally parent my DS, but it is difficult. He has just started school, so we will see how we go, but he already loathes getting anything wrong, or losing, even in a game of chance.

Periwinkle007 Sat 14-Sep-13 19:32:26

I do blame myself yes because I have the same personality and it has made my life so difficult. I really have tried so hard to avoid 'passing it on' so to speak by trying to praise effort, trying to let them see me make mistakes so that they know it is ok to etc but it doesn't seem to work with her. Am hoping as she gets a bit bigger it will naturally sort itself out a bit but am currently trying to apply thrive techniques to help her ( - Rob Kelly)

poachedeggs Sat 14-Sep-13 19:47:54

Travel you are me!

I'm externally successful I guess, professional degree/job, but I feel much thicker than I used to be grin I crammed my way through life. If I hadn't known what I wanted to do in terms of vocation I'd never have got this far. I'm now in a position where I want to take another qualification, in many ways to cement my existing knowledge as much as to build on it, but I'm scared of being unable to do it.

This thread has really opened my eyes -I've been feeling sort of unsettled for a long time, assumed it was an early midlife crisis, but I think this confidence/ability issue has a lot to do with it.

poachedeggs Sat 14-Sep-13 19:53:19

Thanks for the link Peri.

I wonder if this ties in with the very high suicide rate in my profession? Over achievers putting too much pressure on themselves is usually cited as a factor.

Therapy helped me. But it is a loooong and expensive process.

grants1000 Sat 14-Sep-13 19:57:45

Just because he can't yet do some things his peers can or can't do, does not make him behind, nor should it be a situation where it makes him anxious. He is not you and you should not look at him through the glasses of your own childhood issues/concerns, which we all have.

Also remember they grown develop and mature, a 5yo is very different at 7, 9 & 11. I look back with my 11 yo DS and see this so very clearly. Please don't push a nod pressurise and compare so much, you don't need to do this. They need time, support and freedom to grown and develop, not to be micro managed and fretted upon.

poachedeggs Sat 14-Sep-13 20:17:04

Trying really hard not to take offence at that post, grants.

Periwinkle007 Sat 14-Sep-13 20:44:08

I think Thrive could help - both you and him. I am doing it for my emetophobia and lack of self esteem anyway but as soon as I started reading it I could see how my approach and language can affect how my children see themselves. eg it is great that I am proud of them but they need to learn to be proud of themselves and know why they are proud of themselves if that makes sense so I am trying to change the way I speak to them.

I think it is fairly obvious to a parent when their child struggles with processing experiences and emotions and when you have struggled yourself you want more than anything to try and make it easier for them.

I want my children to do well obviously and they are very bright (perfectionists normally are) but whilst my 2nd daughter deals with things a bit better my 1st struggles and it is so hard to try and help her. Schools and their reward incentives don't help IMO, they certainly cause no end of upset to my daughters.

Periwinkle007 Sat 14-Sep-13 20:49:26

I have to say though it is hard work - I am having weekly sessions as well because I am pretty severe and NEED help but if you were doing it in order to be able to help your child then you may find just studying the book on your own would be enough.

there is also a book called something like 'raising your spirited child' which is more about giftedness I think but it includes a lot of the behavioural traits like perfectionism in it so might be worth seeing if you can get hold of a copy of it

AnneUulmelmahay Sat 14-Sep-13 20:56:44

Games of chance like Snap can help

difficultpickle Sat 14-Sep-13 20:56:59

He's 6. I really don't understand why at that age he needs to be developing a 'work ethic' and must 'learn to deal with challenges now'.

Ds (9) has a fixed mindset and all the cajoling in the world won't change how he views things. It really is baby steps not a quick fix and you need to be in it for the long haul with reassurance and support. Ds is underachieving at school despite being assessed as gifted. His attitude at school made his teachers think he couldn't be bothered. In fact he had high levels of anxiety and veered between not wanting to try for fear of failure to being absolutely bored in lessons and switching off completely.

The fact that your ds's teacher recognises how he is is positive and you sound as if you have the support to encourage him to change but don't expect miracles. 'Flooding him with relentless positivity' won't work at all and will probably just make him focus on what he is doing wrong.

Periwinkle007 Sat 14-Sep-13 21:15:39

I do think it is good to tackle something like this though when they are young bisjo, how to do it is the problem but the sooner a child learns to see themselves as worthy and learns that making mistakes is ok then their lives will undoubtedly be more relaxed

lljkk Sat 14-Sep-13 21:24:03

DC aren't perfectionist, but can have very low frustration thresholds. Maybe it's just a different way of same problem coming out.

I tell them that what they're learning is tough, it's supposed to be. If it was easy they wouldn't be in that class/group/lesson etc. They may not manage the first time but that's okay, that's why they are in class, because they need to learn and what they're learning isn't that easy. As long as they try the teacher will be happy (so will I). I'm less interested in when or how success happens.

Praising effort wouldn't really achieve anything with mine. They need to know it's normal to find it hard-going.

difficultpickle Sat 14-Sep-13 21:28:59

Periwinkle I didn't say not to tackle this issue now I said that the OP cannot expect a quick fix, which is what she appears to be hoping for.

Agree with others on praising effort. I think it is harder than it looks when you've been brought up with getting stickers and tick marks for having the right answers yourself, but acknowledging effort and progress ("look how much you've finished, you couldn't do that a week ago") as opposed to correctness has helped us motivate DSD to keep at her classwork. We also used to sit with her while she was doing homework, which led us to pointing out every little mistake she made, which really wound her up and led to quitting. These days, we let her sit down on her own and get on with it, and ask her to let us know if she's struggling with something. It is a little easier to encourage her with her math than her spelling - mistakes in math, we can ask her to check again, but mistakes in spelling we sometimes have to let slide.

DSD is her daddy's kid. Turbo-competitive and hates to lose. :-p Heaven forbid you beat her at a game, whether it's a race, football, Snap or Connect 4.

Periwinkle007 Sat 14-Sep-13 21:37:49

sorry bisjo - I misunderstood

poachedeggs Sat 14-Sep-13 22:08:16

I just want him to be happy. At the moment he's anxious, unhappy and stressed. I can't take that pressure off him because it's coming from school and himself. But maybe I can help him learn how to deal with things better so he doesn't have to be unhappy.

I don't really think there's a quick fix. I didn't mean to give the impression that I thought there was. This thread has given me lots to think about, personally and in terms of how I relate to/try to support my DS. He's not gifted, I'm not hot- housing him, he's just unhappy and Iwant to help him, which I think is probably natural.

grants1000 Sat 14-Sep-13 22:21:54

You all need reminding that you DC's are 5/ they are not cheating when walking on the bottom of the pool, they are learning. If they are not so keen on stabilisers, back off, do it little and often, they are not scared. They all little people starting off in the world, instead if all this hyper critical, labelling how about some gentle, hand holding and love? So what if they wont't try, why such a big deal?

I can guarantee you will look back in a few years and think what a waste of time you spent with such unnecessary fretting and over analysing. Back off, have fun and make your home the safe, warm haven it is supposed to be not you looking at your DC with yet another fretful face because its not 100% perfect/correct/as it should be/the same as his peers etc etc etc.

grants1000 Sat 14-Sep-13 22:26:17

Mrs Truper - your post makes me feel so angry and hmm. Pushing your DC's to tears with work then pushing to finish in case they think tears will mean they can stop?

How about a reassuring hug, leaving the work for a few minutes or until later and they are happier and calmer to do it well with a supportive parent as opposed to one that makes her cry? FFS

tribpot Sat 14-Sep-13 22:26:20

My ds is another one who is very similar to this. He compares himself unfavourably to other boys in his class - no amount of pointing out he is a summer born, one of the youngest in the year, has the slightest effect of course. He hates to lose and basically refused to learn to swim for 5 years because it was too hard.

And then this summer, literally as he turned 8, something clicked. The school have been reinforcing, as have I, the fact that sometimes you have to practice to get good at something and lo and behold, he's learnt to swim and become confident of trying new stuff in the water. He's learning to ride - after his first lesson I was completely convinced he'd come back to me and say he never wanted to do that again, and in fact he was completely enthusiastic and eager to try again. I thought the same about his singing lessons last year and he's stuck with that as well, actually.

He still gets very frustrated with video games and isn't keen to be competitive with other children, but much better and finding coping strategies - being the keeper of the spinny thing when playing Twister with his cousins, for example.

I would use parents' evening to have a word with his teacher and make sure he/she is encouraging him appropriately. Stress and anxiety, even self-inflicted, is not good for him - he needs to feel he is doing well at something. Does he have something outside school to focus on?

morethanpotatoprints Sat 14-Sep-13 22:29:51

Hello OP.

It really doesn't get much better with age. Our dd is 9 and slowly improving but it was playing music that helped.
I would seriously advise anybody who has a child like this to encourage them with a musical instrument. Preferably one they can't throw across the room when they get it wrong/ don't get it right.
It encourages patience and that with practice you gain rewards of finding it easy. If it is introduced in a fun way as a different entity to school work, then bingo.
Now dd is a perfectionist with her music and no doubt will always have the same personality, its just harnessed more now.

poachedeggs Sat 14-Sep-13 22:32:52

grants it seems to me you have no experience of this problem.

It's distressing to see him unhappy. He's unhappy because he expects too much of himself and beats himself up if he doesn't succeed instantly. And you're saying that's all the fault of the parents for being pushy.But he's never been pushed. This is his personality.

Your overanalysing is me trying to give my miserable child some practical support.

tribpot Sat 14-Sep-13 22:38:01

grants, I have to agree with poachedeggs. This is certainly not pressure coming from me in my case - I only ever tell ds that the only thing he has to do at school is try his best, and I praise his effort grades far more than his attainment ones. (As my mum did with me and my brother, as we are very different in terms of academic achievement).

What we are trying to do is get our children to relax and not be so hard on themselves. It's hard when it goes against their natural programming.

morethanpotatoprints Sat 14-Sep-13 22:41:50

Sorry, I meant to add. The attitude to school work is different because we are told from an early age that we have to be good at Maths and English, oh and science is important. There is pressure that comes from many directions irrespective of a person's personality to being sensitive to it. Much of it is unintentional but the dc become anxious and upset.
Music and other art forms can take this away as its rare you here Oh you must be good at piano, flute, violin etc.

Periwinkle007 Sun 15-Sep-13 10:20:26

I agree Grants has obviously not got experience of this.

Children like this (and I was one of them) seriously pile all the pressure on themselves, there isn't really anything anyone can do to help them. It is a personality trait and it is horrible, the child is suffering, they are anxious and stressed. They then invariably grow up into an adult who is self critical and pushes themselves. some people do learn a way to deal with it but it would be unusual for them to find this out for themselves so as parents we owe it to them to try and help them. You can praise your child as much as you want to but if they don't believe for themselves that what they have done is good then it makes no difference and yes if you let them just throw it across the room and walk away then they will never learn to experience failure and then practice to get a bit better at something, even if they never get very good at it they will learn that the practice can actually be the most fun bit.

I don't know what the answer is, I wish I did, I am hoping the book I am reading will help me put some things into practice to help make my daughters happier and more confident but believe me as a parent of a child like this and as a person with this personality myself you will only understand when you experience. All children display some of these traits, same as with ASD, all children display some of the traits but until you really experience a child with a genuine problem you will never actually understand what it is like and how crippling it can be for them. Trust me when I say that the parents on this thread with children like this know what they are talking about and they know that this isn't the same behaviour as many other children and all they want to do is make their child's life happier. Isn't that what ALL parents want for their child?

I don't care if my child gets some of her spellings wrong but SHE does, SHE wants a gold star from the teacher, SHE will be distraught and cross with herself if she gets one wrong. SHE will be upset if she gets a maths question wrong. I don't care. I want her to do well but I honestly am not bothered if she isn't going to be a top neurosurgeon. I just want her to be happy.

Ectoplastastic Sun 15-Sep-13 11:01:35

I have a child like this. She is not a "trier", she doesn't like to be out of her comfort zone, doesn't like to fail. What she does seem to need is to observe and listen and take time out to think and process. She will rarely be the first to try something new but when she has had enough time to work it out in her head (and this might be in terms of minutes, or it might be in terms of months), she will try it and then generally it up quickly. More often than not, putting pressure on just causes upset and frustration and a complete switching off from learning.

Our solution, which is probably not terribly helpful, is home education. It means that my child can learn in a way and at a pace that suits her. It isn't why we chose home education, but it does validate our original decision! I have had to learn to step back, not put pressure on and to trust that skills and learning will eventually come, which so far they have. I suspect that in a school environment it is very difficult to take this pressure off when the school is setting the timetable for learning to take place.

hillian Sun 15-Sep-13 11:33:06

Sometimes DS1 has had me in tears with the way he bullies himself. Even when he has done something that is good by anyone's standards, he still beats himself up for being inadequate.
He was doing it yesterday and when anyone contradicts his negative view, he's intelligent enough to reject their opinion with a "well, you would say that, wouldn't you?".
He is intelligent enough to be able to effectively challenge adults opinions but not intelligent enough to see how blatantly wrong his analysis of himself is!
He's 11 and his bullying of himself is getting harder and harder to overcome.sad

FreckleyGirlAbroad Sun 15-Sep-13 11:39:48

You could always try discussing with him about how the brain is like a muscle and it needs training and working out to get bigger and stronger. A runner has to practice and train to improve his muscles and we need to do the same with our brain if we want it work better!!

tribpot Sun 15-Sep-13 12:15:32

hillian, one I think I do with my ds is talking about how his granny (my mum) will also give up on things if she thinks she won't be able to do them, like learning how to send email. He will quite often respond then spontaneously with 'but Granny must give things a try, how will she ever learn?' - and that can then turn back to 'that's quite right but so must you' etc.

difficultpickle Sun 15-Sep-13 15:37:16

Personally I see no difference between school work and learning an instrument. Both require effort and application and a child who won't do either for fear of failing won't achieve in either sphere (she says having spent all of this afternoon trying to get ds to do 20 mins piano practice). We have also watched some of the triathlon. Ds is interested in the amount of work it takes to be an elite athlete but gives up at the first hurdle of everything he tries if he doesn't get it right first time.

morethanpotatoprints Sun 15-Sep-13 19:23:36


My dd was like this too and still is with everything but music.
I think she has found what she is good at and she will persevere until she has it right. She is not very good academically and won't try if she can't do it first time.

Quincejelly Mon 16-Sep-13 09:37:45

I can only say, as mentioned by earlier posters, read Carol Dweck!

I found her book "Self Theories" really useful on this topic - as someone who was myself also this kind of child...

wordfactory Mon 16-Sep-13 09:44:04

Perfectionism is the enemy of achievement. It will always hold a person back.

One of the best ways to help DC with such tendencies is to lead from the front.

Take risks yourself. Get out of that comfort zone. Fail. Laugh about it...

daftdame Mon 16-Sep-13 10:58:52

I find breaking down tasks really helpful for my DC.

For example with a piece of writing, getting him to ask himself some questions relating to the topic and then answering them helps.

Eg Where is this story set? - A wood. What is the wood like? Dark. What is in the wood? A small mouse. When does the story take place? The evening. With this information you could get, "Once there was a small mouse who lived in a dark wood. One evening..." as a story opener.

Then, if he is able to write in rough first, that can help lessen the pressure. After this you can have a check list to make sure he has capital letters and full stops etc, add some 'wow' words for example 'minuscule' instead of 'small'. Then he can copy out - but this is easy as he has to think less about what to write.

rhetorician Mon 16-Sep-13 12:06:59

Oh I have one of these as well! She is not yet 5, just started school. Teacher said to me this morning "when DD decides not to do something there's no moving her. She just says 'I don't like my picture'" she too will not try things because she is scared to fail. Tries things once, doesn't work, cue wailing and frustration. Sister totally different (not yet 2). Builds tower, tower falls down, dd2 laughs and just does it again. And again. It is temperament. It's hard to see them not fulfilling their potential, and hard to support them, but I find it useful to remember that bright as she may be (she is, but has none of the skills that some of her peers have because she hasn't learned how to try) her reactions to these things are all about her emotions. I have had some success with bribery (!), e.g. Getting her so focused on the reward that she will keep trying. And once she has done the task once, then she is sorted.

Lemonytrees Mon 16-Sep-13 13:24:28

Ds is like this too. You have my sympathies as it can be really hard to see them like this. He finds a lot of things easy, but absolutely cannot cope when he can't do something easily. Like morethanpotatoprints I was going to suggest a musical instrument. This has taught him patience, he still gets angry and upset when he can't do it straight away, but always comes back eventually (without any encouragement from me). He has learnt to break things down into more manageable chunks and the joy of practising something until it's perfect

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