Talking to Your Kids About Perfectionism

After Monday’s post, I thought you might want an example of talking to kids about perfectionism.

First, the set-up:

Parent and 13-yr-old child are studying together for a math final. Parent quizzes student, only to find her consistently getting the same kind of question wrong. Parent figures out it is because child is using wrong formula. But child, who is in a perfection loop, can’t go there…

Parent – Honey, try using this formula.
Child – Mom, no. That is not how the teacher explained it. And now YOU are making everything wrong (perfectionists can’t always own mistakes)
Parent – This isn’t a right-wrong thing. Just try the other formula.
Child – (escalates, is stuck on being wrong and begins to get VERY frustrated)

At this pont a break is in order – see if the child can calm on their own. After a few minutes, re-engage…

Parent – Okay, are we ready to try this again?
Child – No. I don’t get this. I’m just stupid.
Parent – Is that really it? Or is it that you forgot a formula?
Child – Smart people don’t forget things?
Parent – I see. Why is that?
Child – I have a photographic memory, mom. I shouldn’t forget things. I’m never gonna get this.
Parent – Hm. Well, what have your grades been to this point?
Child – A’s
Parent – what does that mean?
Child – I get it.
Parent – Okay, so you do get it most of the time. What does it mean that this formula stumps you?

By now the child is starting to calm and see the logic on their own. If they are still explosive – another break would be in order.

Child – It means there is just something I don’t get.
Parent – Right – ONE thing. Not everything. So, how do you solve this?
Child – Look over the formula and try again.
Parent – Great. Let’s do that.

This is an example taken from real conversations I’ve had both as a parent and in my work as a school psychologist.  Appealing to a GT child’s logic and staying unemotional always works.

Through this type of modeling, my own children have learned to do this on their own and rarely need my assistance anymore. Try it yourself and see what happens.

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