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Perfectionism in young kids

Posted: Wed Feb 28, 2007 3:41 pm
by Calla_Dragon
I'm curious to know if perfectionism is an inherited trait. I'm very highly driven and perfectionistic and my son is showing perfectionistic traits with regards to his schoolwork. I've tried very hard to not pass those traits onto him or to hold him to impossible standards - I try not to hold him to any standards other than one which is that he always tries his best. Lately he's been getting more and more hung up on getting 100% on worksheets and quizzes/tests (some of his curriculum comes with them). When he gets one wrong, he blows it off as, that's ok. However, there is some material we find we need to work more on after a quiz. When this happens, he totally falls to pieces. I've tried explaining to him that all a quiz or test is is a way to see what you've learned and it's nothing to get upset about. He's worried that he'll get them all wrong and that he'll get an F and I tell him that he can't get an F, he's homeschooled and I don't give grades. Most of the time he does get 100% on the quizzes, but the ones he doesn't, he comes totally unglued. He loves quizzes when he gets them all right, but hates them when he gets a few wrong. He's going down the exact same path I went down - I'm just unsure at which age this started.

Any suggestions for stopping this? Or is this a personality trait he's just going to have to learn to deal with? I've learned to cope, but it took me quite a few years and quite a lot personal issues to do so. I'd hate to see him struggle with all that like I did. He's a very, very smart child and he knows it. I think he has it in his head that he should never get any answers wrong or make mistakes.

Posted: Thu Mar 01, 2007 1:43 am
by Theodore
It always irritates me a lot when I made mistakes, but I got more angry at myself than depressed, since the mistakes are almost always stupid ones rather than lack of understanding. I will say that I have a tendency to try to get 100% in everything, and if I don't get close enough, it makes me unhappy.

Mom had the highest test scores for the entire New England area, if I remember correctly, and Dad was certainly no slouch either. I don't know if perfectionism is an inherited trait or not, but I was certainly taught that I should try as hard as possible in everything I do.

Posted: Thu Mar 01, 2007 8:06 am
by Calla_Dragon
I still have that tendency, esp with tests and papers for school. My dad was highly-driven and a perfectionist, which served him well in the military.

He just seems so inherently driven and perfectionistic, and at the age of 6. I try to do what I can to convince him that eveything he does doesn't have to be perfect - that all I expect is that he tries his best. I think he got used to doing so well on schoolwork that when we hit a tough spot, which everyone has, he flips out when he doesn't get perfect scores immediately.

On one hand, I value my drive and perfectionism because it's brought me quite far and has allowed me to accomplish much. One the other, it's quite a burden to have to live up stardards I set forth for myself that are unattainable. I'd hate for him to have to suffer the same frustration.

Re: Perfectionism in young kids

Posted: Wed Mar 07, 2007 10:44 am
by Ramona
I'm very perfectionistic and although I work somewhat at calming down, I also value perfection and don't see what's so bad about striving for excellence. :wink:

At least some of my kids are definitely very perfectionistic as well.

One thought I had based on your orig post:

Calla_Dragon wrote:Lately he's been getting more and more hung up on getting 100% on worksheets and quizzes/tests (some of his curriculum comes with them)... Most of the time he does get 100% on the quizzes, but the ones he doesn't, he comes totally unglued.

You say you don't give grades, but I see "100%" as a grade. Don't put any focus whatsoever on counting how many are right and how many are wrong on any quiz. Just do each item on the quiz one at a time, and if he gets it right move on to the next item, and if he doesn't then talk it through until he does and then move on.


Posted: Wed Mar 07, 2007 12:34 pm
by Calla_Dragon
Striving for excellence isn't bad - when the need for absolute perfection consumes your life, that is bad. I don't value perfection the way others do because I've experienced the damage it can do to one's life when that's all that's acceptable.

I don't grade at all. He knows that all answers right = 100%. He figured that one out on his own. He can't tell you what percentage is 1 wrong, 2 wrong, etc. Lately he's actually gotten worse. Before he'd be alright with just one or two wrong, but now it's either it's 100% or he's failed. He put that grading curve in place for himself. I don't write grades on his papers or mark problems wrong. I sit down to go over something with him and he goes "I got it wrong, didn't I? That means I didn't get 100%" and he'll get really upset. I don't know how he's figuring this stuff out because I'm really careful to keep any grades away from him. It's gotten to the point where I've had to tell him he can't watch a couple specific shows because they refer to grades and that just makes this whole thing worse. The more I try to take grades out of it, the more he clings to them in hopes he can always get a 100%.

Posted: Wed Mar 07, 2007 11:16 pm
by Dolly-VA
Just a thought... With my 9 yo, rather than my sitting and correcting her work myself, I sit with her and have her tell/read me her answers (while I look at the answer key.) If she gets something wrong, I don't tell her she's wrong, but say something like, "this one is tricky..." and I lead her with questions or work on the white board so that she finds the correct answer herself and then fixes the paper. Then, when we're all done, we have a little ritual where I write at the top of the paper (in my "special, I'm the teacher, red marker") Excellente! (in Spanish with the two exclamation points) and she draws a smiley face (I used to do the smiley's too, but she's doing them now and it makes for a few minutes of silliness/relaxation.) This seemed to have taken away the stress of "right/wrong" and when we're done, the paper is completed perfectly. (And any mistakes that she did make, I know immediately if they were silly mistakes or she really didn't understand something.)

Posted: Sat Mar 24, 2007 5:30 pm
by 4given
Calla_Dragon wrote:Striving for excellence isn't bad - when the need for absolute perfection consumes your life, that is bad.

I agree with that 100%.

Excellence is one thing. Perfectionism is regarding everything that comes short of THE mark as unacceptable. These folks usually make themselves sick trying to measure up to some standard. I speak from experience.

I've had to develop the ability to strive for excellence and rest when I've done all that I can do.

Your son is blessed to have a mother who is on top of things. Your experience makes you more aware and thats a good thing. If he sees you mess up and laugh it off, it will eventually sink in that it's okay for him, too.

Sheila in IN


Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2007 7:47 pm
by milehimom
I realize that you posted this a long time ago, but I'm assuming your son is STILL a perfectionist :D . I searched the forum for this same topic as I'm having a hard time teaching my daughter because she gets really upset when she gets things wrong. Typically, her perfectionism manifests itself in mediocrity - she'd rather not try, than try and fail. She's extremely afraid of failure and takes very few risks. Now though, she gets real embarrassed in front of her siblings if she gets something wrong. She seems to feel that the oldest (10) shouldn't be getting things wrong!

ANyway< i found this helpful info on a website just today. It's aimed toward gifted children, but could apply to any perfectionist. It gives tips about ways to deal with your perfectionist since you can't change their personality!

I liked this idea the best:
Practice practicing. Find something that your child will have to work at. This may even be something that you know your child will be the worst at

They also say to emphasize process, not outcome. ... ?rid=11462

Posted: Sun Oct 14, 2007 3:51 am
by Theodore
Good advice, if it works. It's been my experience that no amount of losing makes losing any easier, and games of chance are about the most irritating thing a perfectionist can play. Perfectionists have highly ordered minds, and being unable to control the outcome in any way drives them insane.

Speaking as a perfectionist, I'd much rather play a strategy game I know nothing about, than a game of chance I know everything about. The latter offers no scope for improvement.

Posted: Mon Oct 22, 2007 8:14 pm
by StellarStory
This trait can be great in some ways but absolutely paralyzing for some in other ways. It's something my daughter struggles with.