Davidson Institute for Talent Development
This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development. It provides a number of excellent strategies regarding a parent's approach to their child's perfectionism. The 11 tips contained here are based on information gathered during a facilitated discussion with parents of profoundly gifted young people. Also included is a collection of resources on perfectionism.
The following information was gathered during a facilitated discussion on perfectionism that included parents of profoundly gifted children.
While preparing for the discussion, one key point consistently surfaced in regards to perfectionism: the fact that it is a characteristic trait that will never go away, but instead can only become fine tuned. Once one is able to accept this, it is just a matter of finding a way to approach perfectionism in a more healthy and productive manner. The parents who attended my facilitated discussion shared many wonderful ideas and successful experiences that have helped them gradually help their children combat against the "disabling perfectionism" and move more toward fostering the "enabling perfectionism" instead.
- Practice losing. Start with small games that emphasize chance and are not dependant on skill (rock, paper, scissors & war), then gradually move to more ability based games. This can also help teach children how to be gracious losers.
- 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 (an art class, an organized sports team, swimming, etc.). Music can work well for those who are not musically inclined since any mistakes that are played do not stick around like a drawing or a sculpture.
- Emphasize process, not outcome. How did they get to that conclusion or that next step? What made you decide to use that color? What did you learn from the entire experience?
- Be specific with expectations. PG children are very literal, so make sure to define and be specific. Explain to them exactly what you mean by 'finishing' the project. Be very clear with your expectations. What do you expect your child to get out of writing the English paper? Have your child work in small increments of study time and try and get the most out of it. One great idea, although it does not work well for every child, is to use a stopwatch and have a time restraint.
- Have a sense of humor. PG children are already so hard on themselves, it is great if you can all laugh together when mistakes are made. Watching America's Funniest Home Videos could be a great homework assignment!
- Discuss how mistakes can be good. Penicillin, chocolate chip cookies, banana bread, etc. Read books together on accidental discoveries.
- Model. Show your children the ways you are a perfectionist and how you cope with it. Point out any mistakes that you make and tell stories of mistakes you made when you were younger.
- Priorities and perspective. Stop and discuss how important the outcome is/isn't of a particular project or activity. What will happen if you don't draw it just right the first time?
- Goal setting. Start by practicing with small goals and gradually up the ante. Make sure all goals are realistic and attainable.
- "Full tank" & "down-time". Make sure that all family members are well rested and have a full tummy. Set aside quiet time to allow everyone to re-group and unwind. This can cut down on the number of meltdowns and the heightened sense of irritability.
- Pursuit of Excellence vs. Perfectionism. Perfect is not possible. Explain to them the difference between excellence and perfectionism. A great resource that can help you do this is Perfectionism and the Highly Gifted Child by Shaun Hately.
Preventing Perfectionism, SUNY Counseling Service
Perfectionism and the Highly Gifted Child, Hately, S.
Tips for parents: Perfectionism and the Profoundly Gifted Child, Meckstroth, E.
Voices of Perfectionism: Perfectionistic Gifted Adolescents in a Rural Middle School, Schuler, P. A.
The Survival Guide for Gifted Kids: For Ages 10 & Under, Galbraith, J. This does not deal directly with perfectionism, but it may be a good resource overall.
The Gifted Teen Survival Guide: Smart, Sharp, and Ready for (Almost) Anything (Revised & Updated 4th Edition), Galbraith, J. & Delisle, J.
Managing the social and emotional needs of the gifted: A teacher's survival guide, Schmitz, C. & Galbraith, J.
Moving Past Perfect: How Perfectionism May Be Holding Back Your Kids (and You!) and What You Can Do About It (formerly titled Freeing Our Families from Perfectionism), Greenspon, T.