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How do you deal with your perfectionist child?

(26 Posts)
foxinsocks Sat 31-Oct-09 10:17:50

Just wondering if anyone uses any special tactics or parenting with their perfectionist child. Do you make them do things you know they aren't going to be brilliant at? How do you do this if they are particularly able at things?

Northernlurker Sat 31-Oct-09 10:21:11

I don't think effectively setting them up to lose helps at all. What we need to help them with is ways to cope when things don't go their way and a lot of that is just love and reassurance. Dd1 got herself very stressed over a school play a couple of years back and there was nothing I could do about that except cuddle her and talk calmly about the issues raised. The lid blowing off the kettle full of steam thing is how they cope. We can't be looking for ways to keep the lid on, just have to stop the wallpaper in the kitchen peeling off when it does. iyswim hmm grin

foxinsocks Sat 31-Oct-09 10:27:05

yes that makes good sense. I think I am dreadfully impatient but I am loving and good at cuddles I hope grin.

But what happens when they stop doing things because they fear the result won't be the one they want? Have you come up against that yet?

Northernlurker Sat 31-Oct-09 10:35:36

Three words - Clarinet Grade Two

Yup - she breezed through Grade One but now doesn't want to do the next one because she's worried about failing. Tbh I'm just letting that one float for a bit. She's settling at secondary school and isn't actually having lessons at the moment. When she's ready (by which I mean I can mention lessons without precipating nail chewing and hand wringing) I'll get her lessons and hopefully find her a nice inspiring but reassuring teacher who will help her enjoy it without putting pressure on her. That's what she needs, she puts so much pressure on herself that if you hump anymore on she crumbles. This is all easy to say but doesn't mean I don't get frustrated too!

How old is yours - mine is 11.5.

foxinsocks Sat 31-Oct-09 10:41:13

I feel like linking arms with you northern, it all sounds so familiar.

Ds is about to be 8 (year 3). And it's really got a lot worse this year. I think it's because he found everything so so easy up till now. And he's still finding school easy but it's his extra curriculum stuff that's starting to challenge him and causing major problems.

Like you say, what I find so hard is the amount of pressure he puts on himself. He has been selected for some sports teams but when the games come around, if they start losing he goes to pieces. And although I have been supportive, a few weeks ago I got cross because I told him I couldn't bear to watch himself torture himself every week (burst into tears etc.) so he had to decide if he wanted to continue with it or not.

Am booking a holiday that has lots of activities and his carefree sister is signing up for loads of things but he won't do any of the sporting activities with her because he knows there will be games and he worries about the outcome. It just makes me so sad because I feel it's stopping him enjoying things iyswim.

wilbur Sat 31-Oct-09 10:43:14

Ah - I have one of these - in fact I am preparing a longer post about his behaviour in general. I really don't know how to handle it. Ds1 has always been a perfectionist - but he is only prepared to work at things he knows he is good at. He will spend hours making lego or drawing complicated diagrams of battles or maps or plans for the bakery he wants to have when he grows up, but if I suggest colouring the pictures in, which he is convinced he can't do well enough, he just flounces. He definitely has stopped doing some things because he think he won't be good at them and that's what bothers me most - I can cope with anxiety or tantrums but the stubborn, not-even-going-to-try stuff I find incredibly frustrating. I have wondered whether it is wrapped up with his occasional difficulty relating to his peers - not in terms of friendship as he has good friends, but in terms of simply not being able to tolerate teasing in any form (which is pretty disastrous if you are an 8yr old boy). He has always been super-sensitive about that kind of thing and although he is muuch better at home now and understand that a gentle tease is part of family life, he is very bad at coping with it at school. An incident like a friend burping in his face and laughing has ds1 brooding for days. sad I've just bought "Unwritten Rules of Friendship" to see if we can untangle these feelings bit by bit, starting with understanding peer relationships better which might make him see that if things are not perfect, that doesn't automatically mean they are dreadful. IYSWIM.

Northernlurker Sat 31-Oct-09 10:44:03

Thta's how they are though and you can't find a way through for them, just have to help them pick up the pieces. They do learn from the upset and will (I hope) gradually develop a sense of self preservation that doesn't only involve not doing something.

wilbur Sat 31-Oct-09 10:46:21

Northern - I guess my worry is that it's a vicious circle that will end up with him stuck in his room behind a wall of lego, never to emerge or try anything else!

LilyBolero Sat 31-Oct-09 10:47:44

dd has ALWAYS been like this - she is very very bright (and apparently it usually goes along with that) and went through a real phase of not trying things she wasn't sure that she would be brilliant at - so wouldn't join in dancing at playgroup etc.

We spoke to her wonderful playgroup leader, and she said the best thing to do was to model getting things wrong - so we would deliberately try something, get it wrong, and then say something like 'Oh look, I've not got that right - I wonder where I went wrong - oh look, I forgot to do that! I'll try that again later'. Or 'I don't think I'm very good at knitting, but at least I'm having a go'. Then there isn't any pressure on the child (you're not 'making' them do something they don't want to), but they are seeing that it's ok to try something and get it wrong.

Dd is 6 now, and is MUCH better than she was - still a perfectionist, but she is happier to try new things.

Northernlurker Sat 31-Oct-09 10:48:11

Oh and I TOTALLY relate to the can't cope with teasing thing!

foxinsocks Sat 31-Oct-09 10:50:05

you are impressive northern! You sound incredibly calm and what you say makes sense.

I have been really worrying about ds (and his behaviour too - wilbur, I wonder if they are exhibiting the same traits?).

I think it's the group sports that have got to me this year. Beforehand, the only person it affected was ds but now he is letting down other people by just walking off the pitch in tears or being unable to play because he's so upset. But yet he desperately wants to play. I suppose maybe I have to be a bit more detatched from it but I am finding it really hard to do that. Like wibur, I find it frustrating and upsetting too tbh. But maybe that's my problem and he is fine lol.

foxinsocks Sat 31-Oct-09 10:51:58

and I am also not a perfectionist so can't get this 'no I don't want to try'. I find that frustrating and sad. Like not wanting to do activities on holiday (I imagine just in case he's not good at them)

Northernlurker Sat 31-Oct-09 10:52:16

Sorry x posts. Wibur - thankfully we are talking about bright children here - and with that comes a natural curiosity and a desire to achieve. So they will emerge from their rooms and do well because that's how they're built. They're just built to be a bit 'aaaargh' about the whole thing as well and I think that the latter years of primary school when there is so much more to do and things that test their independance are coming up and they have to make a lot more of their own decisions than ever before - well that's stressful for this type of child. Just ride it out and let them find their own way. We cannot fix this - nor should we because this trend of self questioning and self challenging is going to make them in to amzing adults - once they've learnt to control it. <<NL crosses everything she has grin>>

BCNSback Sat 31-Oct-09 10:52:45

DD is perfectionist ds2 is a aswell ( but he has asd).

I am also a perfectionist. we all 'blow steam' we all beat ourselves up... but I have learnt that it isn't the end of the world.. ( i just grew into knowing that from experience) .. just be there picking up the pieces if the want you to..

I know it's hard to watch someone beat themselves up becuase something they are doing isn't quite right. But there is not a lot you can actually do about it.

with dd (6) she will get in a real huff when she sees that her drawings aren't as good as mine... thing is I'm a professional artist... and she is 6 ... so they are not going to be. So I just tell her this.. and luckily my mum kept lots of my drawings over the years... so I've shown her mine at her age... which made her feel better.

The other big thing in my thinking is why do something that I am not good at... yes some things have to be done.. granted.. but there is absolutly no point waisting energy and time doing something that isn't going well....
It's not flouncing it's .. more engery conserving. ;)

HTH a bit

Northernlurker Sat 31-Oct-09 10:54:52

foxinsocks - we have made so many mistakes with this! My saving grace is dh who has many of the same character traits as dd1 and so helps me to understand a bit. Also being a couple of years further on I can see the bigger picture. It will get better (then probably worse again) grin then better.

Keeping you stress out of it is so hard, I've got so frustrated too but I know now that fixes nothing - just adds to the stress 'bonfire'!

Biobytes Sat 31-Oct-09 10:57:44

i tell him that it is ok to be wrong, that the world doesn't end if things are not perfect and that it is not important to win but to have fun.

I try to make him laugh at his mistakes and also to learn to laugh at himself. I think it has been particularly important to make him aware that every child (he inclusive) has their own strengths and weakness. Learning that you can not be or need to be the best on absolutely everything has make a huge difference.

It seems to be working. The trick is to use it in as many situations as possible, the more varied the experiences the better equipped he is to cope with new experiences.

foxinsocks Sat 31-Oct-09 11:00:04

yes, very true about the stress all adding together and making it a lot worse. I am going to have to practice my la la la face (ds's year 1 teacher had a marvellous Keep Calm And Carry On face that you felt even in the face of a full on rebellion would work).

I guess you have to try and let them get to their own conclusions and only if they ask for help (or look like need it) do you need to get involved!

wilbur Sat 31-Oct-09 11:05:15

Lilybolero - I think your approach about showing you getting thing wrong and not worrying about it is a good one and I do try similar - although ds1 is a bit old now to fall for the "silly mummy" routine! Yesterday actually we had a good one - I love making cakes and ds1 and I were planning blood-red cupcakes for Halloween which turned out to a distinctly unthreatening strawberry colour. Thankfully, we all thought it was hilarious and I know that in the past, I might have been quite annoyed I'd got it wrong (oh yes, did I mention my own perfectionist tendencies? I have to put my hand up to having modelled some not great behaviour to ds1 in the past blush) and ds1 might have been upset too, but it was all ok.

Northern, I think you are right in that we have to ride out the storms, but like foxinsocks, I hate to see ds1 downcast because he feels he has failed at something.

saintmaybe Sat 31-Oct-09 11:12:07

I read an interesting thing, can't remember where, suggesting that one really helpful strategy is to make a real point of praising trying/ hard work RATHER than success/ cleverness

So, 'wow, that's a great drawing, looks like you really worked hard to colour that bit'

rather than, 'wow, you're so good at drawing, aren't you clever' etc

The rationale being that a child who's praised for their cleverness can be really scared of failing and therefore cutting off the reason they're loved, iyswim, even if you don't act all disappointed when they 'fail'

Have started doing it with mr perfecto ds1, and it does seem to have taken some of his terror of trying stuff he might not be able to do straight away; he's another one who's very able at a lot of things, and has maybe got a lot invested in his self-image as a 'clever boy'

wilbur Sat 31-Oct-09 11:36:59

saint - yes, that's something we have definitely started trying to do and it's interesting to see that it does seem to work. Ds1 is far more satisfied to be praised for his hard work than for just being brilliant (which he is, of course grin).

LilyBolero Sat 31-Oct-09 13:16:24

I don't ever do 'silly mummy' wilbur, because dd would hate to be thought 'silly' so I try to emphasise the 'having a go is the best thing' and hope she latches on to that!

wilbur Sat 31-Oct-09 14:18:24

Sorry, lily - I didn't mean I would actually say "silly mummy", I just meant that he usually knows now if I draw attention to my mistakes as a "learning opportunity" grin.

foxinsocks Sat 31-Oct-09 15:30:31

I think the problem is that as they get older, they know full well what you are up to (praising the effort wink). I'm feeling a bit more positive after talking to you lot because it does seem that all these perfectionist dcs' behaviour is very similar. I sometimes feel like I need a manual for ds!

wilbur Sun 01-Nov-09 15:01:36

Oh yes, a manual, I could do one of those as well. It feels to me like my perfectionist tendencies and his are quite differently manifested - I will work at something until I get it right which is how I approached school - whereas he is more likely to give up early in anticipation of it going wrong. On my particularly frustrated days, I like to blame dh's genes grin.

Glad you're feeling a bit more positive though, foxinsocks.

Feelingsensitive Wed 04-Nov-09 22:00:46

I have a potenial one of these! It's DD who is 4 and I recognise alot of these tendancies. She is a terrible loser and faffs about over the most minor things. I know alot of DCs do at this age but this is ridiculous. She has very specific ways of doing things. The latest things are how the socks go on. It drives me nuts! She has to have a her duvet straight along the bottom of her bed, her tights only just below her belly button, sleeves rolled up to the elbow at all times, seams of socks to be straight along the toes. I make her sound very odd but she is in fact extremely sociable and lovely. DH is a perfectionist too. In fact he has equally bizarre standards about the duvet. Luckily I am slothenly so it dampens the whole thing down grin

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