We all know at least one perfectionist. When we think about that individual, words like demanding, overexacting, dissatisfied, and critical, come to mind. We might think: thank goodness I don’t have to tolerate her rigidities and idiosyncrasies.
But, what if your child is a perfectionist? Perfectionism is a characteristic often found in gifted children, and it can be destructive.
Although perfectionists tend to be hard on others, many of us fail to realize that they are harder on themselves. The self-inflicted stress and pressure to be perfect can wreak havoc in a child’s mind. As a result, the child may be underachieving. I don’t want to hand in my math assignment because I probably made a mistake. I’m not going to do a science fair project, because it won’t be good enough. If I don’t get an “A,” my teacher will think less of me. Thoughts of inadequacy and low self-esteem can paralyze a gifted child. I have to be perfect all the time, or my parents will be disappointed.
In his article Helping Gifted Students Cope with Perfectionism, Dr. Michael C. Pyryt discusses the daily frustration and anxiety that perfectionistic gifted children experience. That frustration and anxiety can lead to depression. “Perfectionists may also decrease their enjoyment in life by focusing on unmet goals, things that still need to be accomplished, rather than savoring accomplishments,” he wrote.
Dr. Pyryt encourages parents to consider 5 questions. If you answer yes to any of them, your child may have unrealistic expectations of himself.
If he exhibits these compulsive tendencies, here are three ways you can help him cope.
1) Remind your child that perfection is unattainable. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. Point out mistakes that you have made and mistakes that other accomplished, admirable people have made.
2) If your child gets a perfect score on a test or an assignment, focus on the additional study time and the extra effort that he put forth to achieve that 100%, rather than the score itself. Personal growth and improvement are more important than always attaining a perfect result.
3) Remind your child that no matter what he does or doesn’t accomplish in life, he will always be worthy of your love and acceptance. That is the perpetual message to give–not only your gifted child, but–every child.
For information about UtahSENG, Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted, and local parent group meetings click here.
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