The Perfectionist Child
Do you have a child that melts down over your slightest correction in their schoolwork? One of my son’s tends to be this way. Learning comes very easily to him. He learned to read simply by watching his older brother’s lessons and now he can rocket through books far above the level typical for his age. He picks up math concepts in a flash. He has an eye for detail and the memory of an elephant. Even physical skills like riding a bike or sports come easily. While this probably all sounds fantastic (and it is in many ways) the downside is it is tremendously difficult to challenge him. As a result he doesn’t have much practice dealing with his emotions or working through mistakes. When a mistake does present itself he tends to overreact and meltdown. Pridefulness can set in and he can insist he is correct when in truth he is not.
Helping our children have the right perspective with mistakes they make in their schoolwork or in life, helping them analyze their own weaknesses, can be tremendously challenging for any parent. These character flaws in our children can even seem magnified when we, as homeschooling parents, work alongside our children day after day.
I think perfectionist children, when faced with a reality or situation they don’t like or are not used to, become hyper focused on it. Perhaps they even feel an overburdened sense of shame in their mistake. Shame is a feeling of inadequacy, you feel like a failure, helpless, or hopeless. Perhaps committing a mistake makes them feel incapable. Children can even tell themselves these very things perpetuating the issue further. As parents we have to help them get rid of these wrong ways of thinking and process mistakes correctly. We can even teach them to find value in their mistakes.
Proverbs 12:1 reads “whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.” This is a great verse to share with children. If your kids are like mine they might be surprised to find the word stupid in the Bible. That happens to be a word not often used in our home so it readily stands out. Reading this verse, at a calm moment, not during a meltdown over a mistake, can prompt fantastic discussion about how mistakes are like discipline as they show us where we’ve gone wrong. They give us the opportunity to be corrected so that we can stretch our learning.
The verse doesn’t say that a person who’s in need of correction is stupid. That is an important point because that is the very thing that perfectionist children tend to tell themselves. Making a mistake or finding something challenging doesn’t mean the child has some sort of personal flaw. Correcting a mistake provides an excellent opportunity for growth in learning. It is an opportunity.
When the meltdown comes again, as it surely will, remind your child that this mistake doesn’t mean they are stupid, it means they’ve been given an opportunity to grow in their knowledge and skill. Repeat that as often as needed until your child has internalized it and they say that very thing to themselves all on their own.
Crystal Heft is a wife and homeschooling mother to four beautiful children. A former public school teacher she took a dramatic turn in her life when her oldest was born. Now she stays at home educating and raising her family while also running her own photography business. Crystal blogs about life, homeschooling, photography and more at www.crystalstarrblog.com.