Gifted children are frequently perfectionists where the drive to achieve can be so heightened they are never satisfied with the outcome of anything. The following information will help you to identify characteristics of perfectionism and develop strategies.
Characteristics related to perfectionism can include:
- a fear of failure and subsequent choosing to not attempt challenging tasks
- never finishing a task or project or homework due to striving to complete a 'perfect' outcome
- presenting 'correct work' but not attempting the more difficult tasks because the outcome will be less than perfect
- being motivated by praise from a person who is important to them and fearing its loss. In some cases, children mentally link love and praise. Therefore, in their minds a lack of praise means that they are not worthy of love.
Helping your child cope with perfectionism
In guiding your gifted child to cope with perfectionism it is important they receive genuine praise for an outcome that is advanced on what is a usual outcome for them.
Praise not representing genuine achievement can cause confusion about the meaning of the praise. Praise should also be linked to the task or thought processes. Examples include:
- 'how did you arrive at that answer?'
- 'what were the key ideas that helped you solve this?'
Simple praise, such as 'good boy' or 'you are a clever girl', is not as effective.
Strategies to help manage perfectionism
While still setting high standards for your child, there are things you can do to help your child avoid the pitfalls of perfectionism.
Many gifted children need guidance to be realistic about when it is useful to strive for perfection and when it is not important. You can help your child find strategies to realistically manage their perfectionism and you may need to share these with their child's teacher. These strategies include:
- helping your child focus on the process rather than the end result. The process should be as fun and rewarding as achieving the final goal. Help them understand that mistakes are learning opportunities rather than failures
- discussing how impossible it would be to be perfect in everything. If you notice your child becoming anxious, you should talk with him or her about their expectations. Have unrealistic goals been set up? If so you can help them reassess their goals
- deciding together on some statements or strategies to cope with wanting everything to be perfect, such as 'I'll try this four times then that is all the time I will give it' or 'I'll accept that sometimes close enough is good enough'.
Manage your child's measurement for success
You can challenge your child's measurement for success. For example, in a class project, discuss whether 80 or 90 per cent success instead of 100 per cent would be acceptable. Afterwards discuss the outcome and how they felt. It is likely that they will find that this is not the worst thing that could happen to them.
Where children are showing signs of stress and anxiety as a result of their perfectionism, parents should seek guidance and support from others, including: