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    in september, DD5 and i are about to begin our homeschooling adventures. she can handle pretty much any math she meets, so in order to help identify the dreaded gaps and/or know where to start, i got her a Dreambox membership. (ps - whoever it was around here who mentioned it, THANK YOU!)

    DD5 loves it (yay!) but she hit a little snag somewhere in the middle of Grade 3 with some money/time stuff she hadn't seen before. she's apparently farther ahead than i'd ever imagined, but now she's totally paralyzed with fear. in her mind, learning is all about displaying - like she's some sort of intellectual peacock.

    sooooo, do y'all have any brilliant catchphrases, analogies or strategies? i could really use some fresh ones... thanks!




    Last edited by doubtfulguest; 08/07/13 11:28 AM.

    Every Sunday it brooded and lay on the floor. Inconveniently close to the drawing-room door.
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    This is probably not what you were looking for, but my son went through an extreme perfectionism stage between three and four years old. Things I found to be helpful were catchphrases and modelling non-COD behavior. I would make a mistake and say aloud, "Oops. That's okay; everyone makes mistakes sometimes.", and carry on like it was nothing; or, "Oh dear, I made a mistake. But that's okay, I can just put a line through it.". It was hard for me to not have everything perfectly in its place, but I couldn't be a hypocrite! My son is still perfectionist, but only about the important things. I personally think a little perfectionism is a good thing.

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    I used myself as a horrible example. (Past tense, because DS can now tell my story himself, so I don't have to!) I (thanks to not-so-great education) went through the whole of school thinking maths was something I should always be able to do first time, no trouble, 100%. When I finally hit problems that were hard, I had a *lot* of work to do learning to deal with that situation, practically and emotionally. (In maths, if you go far enough, you will hit this situation: anyone who doubts it should go and prove Goldbach's conjecture, and then come back for the next exercise.) Therefore I've always tried to make sure DS has some work to do that is so hard he can't do it, and some that he can but only if he really works. I've also been completely open with him about what I'm doing and why.

    You do have to really believe it yourself! Resist any temptation to be pleased when they do an entire exercise sheet with no trouble: remember to be disappointed, because it means they didn't get a chance to learn with optimal efficiency that time. Celebrate struggle (when it eventually leads to success, but even when it doesn't). Point out progress - let them experience finding something easy now that they remember finding hard before. Etc.


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    thanks, all!

    Squishys - so true! that's actually how i am naturally - i couldn't give a rat's behind about making mistakes! i think that's probably why i'm finding this so hard to deal with in DD - for a kid who is clearly built to learn at a reasonable clip, it kills me to see her putting these roadblocks in front of herself.

    ColinsMum - that is a good tip! my husband probably has some great examples of his perfectionism holding him back, i'm going to ask him to tell DD about them - i hope he's brave enough. the big challenge for me is that i'm completely the opposite - for as long as i can remember i've had a Search & Destroy approach to learning: if i didn't know it, i wasn't going to rest until i did. (it's probably massively annoying.)

    Portia - Experimentation Time sounds totally great. it's a natural fit for homeschooling, too - we can just build that right in from Day One. it actually occurs to me that homeschooling itself might reduce the perfectionism tendency a little - she won't be in a classroom where she wants to protect her status as the All-Knowing. fingers crossed!

    maybe it's time to bring back her old hero, Terry Fox. years ago she got really involved with his story, even writing to the Fox family to express her admiration. (his brother actually wrote back to her, it was really awesome.) her love for Terry really took over her life, but her interest quickly branched out more into the medical side. i have to choose a new bedtime book today, so maybe i'll pull out his biography again. thanks so much!!


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    Quote
    Resist any temptation to be pleased when they do an entire exercise sheet with no trouble: remember to be disappointed, because it means they didn't get a chance to learn with optimal efficiency that time. Celebrate struggle (when it eventually leads to success, but even when it doesn't). Point out progress - let them experience finding something easy now that they remember finding hard before. Etc.

    All this is great advice!

    DD has heard many times that everything is easy, you're not learning enough. I think she actually believes it now.

    This may sound dorky, but we actually have a few songs that we use in our family when the perfectionist monster strikes. One is along the lines of "If at first you don't succeed--try, try again.." and goes on from there about how not getting it right the first time means you have something to learn, etc. Als, I still sing them this, which I used to sing when they were little bitty toddlers, although I sorta camp it up now:



    This could be totally annoying--not used when they are really worked up!

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    We've had the "not learning anything" discussion many times, and I think it may actually have started to sink in with DS10.

    One of my favorites is a line from Bujold's Vorkosigan series, that Miles told Ekaterin when she was worrying about not knowing enough to take botany classes at the university. He told her, "educated is what you aim to be coming out, not going in."

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    Originally Posted by Nautigal
    One of my favorites is a line from Bujold's Vorkosigan series, that Miles told Ekaterin when she was worrying about not knowing enough to take botany classes at the university. He told her, "educated is what you aim to be coming out, not going in."

    oh i LOVE that.

    gotta get her to stop living her life like it's an endless test. so awesome to hear that it's sinking in with your kids - like i say (nearly) every time: this place is amazing.


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    I'm going to observe, here (not that I have a good answer, it just echoes some of my DH's thoughts and mine)--

    life as an endless test/checklist-- YES. But... clearly we don't approach life that way, so where did this notion come from? School, that's where. Schools now are so far down the rabbit hole of testing-testing-testing and prep-for-testing the rest of the time that it is no wonder that for a child whose "job" is school, that becomes a central focus in their world view.

    Quote
    sooooo, do y'all have any brilliant catchphrases, analogies or strategies? i could really use some fresh ones... thanks!

    Unfortunately, most of this can't be ameliorated (not even close) with a pithy or uplifting phrase. When I realized that maybe most of my DD's problems were perfectionism in various guises... and then further realized that it was socially-prescribed perfectionism at work, I dug-- HARD-- into the relevant literature on the subject so as to know how to help her.

    I'm sorry to say that there isn't a lot out there. They have to want to be different, and by the time you recognize that you have a problem (and not just a high-achieving kid who loves excellence-- and why discourage excellence??)... this is likely a central part of your child's self-image.

    Best advice, therefore--

    Expect glacial progress.

    Expect that you'll be needing a stable of different responses tailored to dealing with a perfectionist.

    Expect that others-- really, the world as a whole-- will undermine your efforts at every turn.

    Trust your gut-- and check it often.

    Don't blame all problems on perfectionism-- sometimes kids are just kids, and even when they aren't, they may well have other real issues in play-- like an undiagnosed LD.



    All of that said, we do have a list of do's and don't's for dealing with our perfectionistic DD (some of this applies ONLY to socially-prescribed perfectionism and would be quite toxic for other types of perfectionists):

    a) do not force the child to therapy if they are unwilling, as this is a message to a perfectionist that there is something "wrong" with them (as long as they think that and aren't willing, several therapists have implied strongly to us that it may well do as much harm as good)

    b) choose your battles wisely. Not everything requires 100% effort, and "good enough" can be a real goal-- my key question is "Are you pleased with it?" (if the answer is yes, then good enough)


    c) procrastination can be about a LOT of different underlying things-- after all, I procrastinate about mopping my kitchen floor, too... so it's not like it's all about fear of failure. LOL! Determine what it's about if something doesn't add up.

    d) DO NOT coddle a perfectionist. DO NOT. They interpret this as a signal that they are incompetent, deep down, and that they need to work harder to HIDE that fact... they may even twist it into "my parents are disappointed in me" instead of the comfort that we intend.

    e) Failure is always an option, and there are a million ways to do it, and an infinite number of ways to do it-- don't rescue/insulate a perfectionist from the results of his/her actions. Particularly when they have a chance to taste real failure. They need to see that the world doesn't end when it happens.

    f) realize that while a perfectionist isn't consciously aware of all of their coping mechanisms-- they ARE, in some sense, voluntary. I do not treat my DD's perfectionism the way that I would anxiety or her other physical limitations. I push on the perfectionism. Sometimes I push hard on it; children vary tremendously, however, and this is why I suspect that ONLY parents/family/close friends may be in any position to know what their perfectionist can tolerate. But in any case-- push the envelope. They can do better; it's not like dysgraphia or a learning disability, so we don't treat it that way.

    g) when my DD has an altercation with the outside world over some facet of performance, my first question is about the validity of her assessment of the situation. I ask to see evidence to support her version of things. "I failed" is sometimes her interpretation of a 78% on a quiz, and "the teacher doesn't like me" is occasionally the result of blunt criticism for not using complete sentences on a test. This means putting the momma bear suit away. If I think that she had something coming, I tell her that. I'm seeing my role as "helping her learn to deal with the world," not protecting her from it.


    So what do we do-- actively-- to help our DD deal with her perfectionism?

    * Opting out of potential failure isn't an option for her. Yes, we respect her interests, aptitudes, and ability-- but beyond that, it's NOT okay for her to chicken out of something that we know she would probably want to participate in otherwise.

    * We're quite matter of fact-- and HONEST-- about appraisals of performance... but just as often, we remind her that opinion about subjective criteria is an "eye of the beholder" thing to begin with.

    * I actively attack what I know is running through her head. When she is thinking; "Oh, if I'd had more time, it could have been perfect," I will say; "I guess we'll never know what a good faith effort would have looked like there. Too bad you procrastinated and lost that opportunity."

    * I point out that what others actually think of her may well be impacted by her perfectionistic behaviors, all right... but probably not in the way that she wants. She winds up LOOKING like a prima donna and a complete FLAKE who can't be bothered to respect activities/assignments/institutions that others put time and energy toward. I do not sugar-coat that. When you're perpetually making excuses, that looks BAD to others. This particular point is only something that works with socially prescribed perfectionists, by the way-- because that is what matters to them; THEY believe that they are complete failures (imposter syndrome) and are mostly concerned with how they appear to others, and with hiding this 'truth' from themselves, too.

    * smart isn't WHO you are-- it may be a part of what you are (female, 12yo, etc.) but that is not the same thing.

    * learning is messy and PAINFUL sometimes... it takes a certain kind of courage to admit that you don't know something, so that you can LEARN IT.

    * we are proud when we see DD act to overcome her perfectionism-- letting go of 'black-white' performance judgment in her mind, planning and-- genuinely-- doing a good enough job, being pleased (not sulky) with outcomes which result from such efforts, and failures that she learns from.


    Our one sort of pithy phrase is from The Velveteen Rabbit-- It hurts to be real. (But it's still well worth it.)
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    All that said, I played these head games with myself until I was well into college. I have no idea what flipped the switch and closed the door on that perfectionism. Not really. I just woke up and smelled the coffee one day, or something. I still use procrastination/red-lining as a motivational tool, but I never do the kind of things that I used to in which I'd self-sabotage with time. I still struggle sometimes with imposter syndrome.

    What allowed it to go on so long was the insulation that my intellect allowed me-- and the fact that so few adults around me were really wise to what was under it all.



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    Expect that others-- really, the world as a whole-- will undermine your efforts at every turn.

    Yeah. This is really true.

    I'm sure most of the posters here know the sinking feeling that comes with seeing all 100%s coming home. We are supposed to think that's the desired goal.

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    yeah, HK - all of that really rings true. thanks so much for spending so much time with this, i really appreciate it. i'm going to print this off so i can reference it when things seem particularly dire.

    you nailed it - this problem definitely was born in school - before she went to Pre-K last year, she was the opposite of a perfectionist - a total risk-taker, and quite confident she could master anything/everything. they really took that from her by only rewarding (her great) results, which is the opposite of what that particular school was supposed to be about - and it took me way too long to see that. at the spring Parent-Teacher meeting, i literally said, "i think she needs more failure in her life," and they looked at me like i was a child abuser. (i wish i was kidding.)

    thanks for the reminder about The Velveteen Rabbit - we haven't read that in years - i'm going to pull it out.

    in the past few days we've had a few excellent conversations about expecting failure and not letting fear limit her participation. she designed a sort of learning number line (Unknown Unknown -> Known Unknown -> Trials & Effort -> Known Known) and we talked about where she feels the worst (K/U, obviously.) i think she was surprised to notice that Trials & Effort was not the place where she feels the worst, but that Known Unknown is easily dealt with by just starting the next step. i think it helped her to see it in a visual progression.

    it's the self-limiting aspect of all of this that is so hard for me - at this point in her life, her possibilities should feel essentially limitless.

    thanks again, all. it means a lot.

    Last edited by doubtfulguest; 08/09/13 08:29 AM.

    Every Sunday it brooded and lay on the floor. Inconveniently close to the drawing-room door.
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