Perfectionism

Many gifted students are perfectionists. This can cause problems in students as soon as they begin school. It’s especially stressful because of the huge emphasis on testing in schools today. These perfectionist students are constantly having to be perfect in their minds.

A student of mine wrote this poem today. I think it may help many of you understand what goes on in their heads as they worry about being perfect.

 My stomach is filled with butterflies.
My hands are shaking in fear.
Slowly, I click on the button
Knowing the answer is near.

 I hold my breath
And stare at my score.
There is the answer
I have to wait no more.

 It is not perfect.
I want to cry,
But that’s when I ask myself . . .
Why?

 It’s not a 100,
But an A nevertheless.
I worked hard,
And I did my best

 The Earth will keep turning.
There’s no need to fear . . .
I’m still going to cry.
Just not now, not here.

What’s nice about this poem is that it shows that the student is beginning to internalize what we’ve been telling her all year. She’s not there yet, but at least she’s taking steps in the right direction. Hopefully, soon, the tears won’t come at all.

Help for the Perfectionistlittle girl study with microscope

You may be wondering how you can help your own little perfectionist. This following advice may help you:

  • Create a safe environment to experiment with failure. If your children don’t learn how to “fail,” they’ll never really learn how to succeed. These kids can really learn a lot from losing. Figuring out what they did wrong will help them grow and expand their abilities in all areas.
  • Don’t let them be afraid to try new things. Many times they don’t want to try something new because they’re afraid of failure. Encourage and support risk-taking behaviors.
  • Don’t use the word “perfect” if you can help it. But, don’t disregard how seriously they feel about being perfect. Let them know you think they did really well, but tell them you understand why they are upset. Don’t solve the problem for them. Guide them to figure out how to change.
  • Never make them feel like they’re wrong for being upset. If they wanted a 100 and only got a 95 (like the student above), let them tell you why they’re upset. Maybe they’re mad because they made a silly mistake. Explain that you think it’s important to strive for excellence over perfection. For example, I might say, “I understand that you wanted a 100% on that test. You really knew the content, didn’t you. I am very proud of you, but I can see that you’re sad. Don’t forget, though, that a teacher only counts it as a letter grade. So, in the grade book, a 100 is the same as a 95. They’re both A’s.”
  • If worst comes to worst, tell them to be upset about it for five more minutes and then move on to their next challenge!

Your Turn!

How do you manage the challenges of perfectionism in your classroom?  We’d love to know your thoughts!