In a previous life, before children, I worked as a recruiter. I conducted hundreds of interviews in my time and when I asked the typical question “What’s your greatest weakness?” I was always surprised at the number of people who said “I’m a perfectionist.” I mean really, how can striving to do the best possible job, at the cost of everything else, really be a weakness? Then I had my youngest daughter, and I have learned what a challenge being a perfectionist can truly be.
We first noticed our daughter’s perfectionism in her earliest drawings. Where my eldest daughter was busy scribbling at 2 years old, my youngest was meticulous. At a very early age her artwork was not experimental. When colouring a colouring page, instead of her crayons rolling freely on the page, she would use small dots of colour, placed strategically in the middle of the white voids. My daughter’s artwork was filled with circles…her attempts at making a perfect circle.
|attempts at the “perfect” circle at 2 years of age
It made for incredibly neat artwork, and we didn’t really see anything too strange. It was as she aged that her colouring inside the lines and her need to create perfect shapes became an obsession.
|an example of her earliest attempts at colouring age 2
When my daughter was around 3 years old she began learning how to write. Her ability to concentrate and focus on a task was amazing. The problem was that for every success she had, there were inevitable failures. My daughter had no ability to cope with failure. One “wrong” move and she was thrown into anger and tears. It felt so strange to be consoling my shattered 3 year old and telling her it was okay and that we could just erase her mistakes. Erasing was never good enough…she would throw things out and start all over again.
|learning to write at age 3
It got to the point where I could not sit down and draw or write or craft with my daughter. The pressure she put on herself to do things “perfectly” was too much. Too much for her and too much for me.
Her perfectionism spilled into other areas of her life as well. She became, and still is to an extent, incredibly controlling over her belongings. If you moved her toys from the position she had placed them in, she would have a complete breakdown. Helping her with anything became impossible. Only the way that she wanted things done was acceptable.
My real concern was, and is, her ability to lessen her need for things to be perfect and to find ways to cope with making mistakes. We have tried many approaches to try and help our daughter evolve. It has truly been an ongoing process.
- In the beginning I would purposefully colour outside of the lines to show her that making a “mistake” was acceptable.
- Instead of praising her with words like “the butterfly you drew is beautiful” I would say “you did a great job.” Trying to focus the praise on her, not on the work.
- We encourage her to do more abstract artwork, not focusing on realism
. Instead of attempting to recreate something she can see, having her create something in her mind…no mistakes can be made if it is from her imagination. A great example of this would be her recent George Rodrigue inspired artwork
. She was incredibly happy with her piece. The artwork allowed her to use her imagination to create a magical looking scene, with unrealistic colours and shapes.
* Praising her effort and not the finished product.
* Modelling effective ways to deal with mistakes with her older sister and ourselves, as parents.
Many of the articles I have read about having a child who is a perfectionist tend to imply that parental and school pressure can contribute to the problem. We have taken inventory of how we approach our children and I’m not sure I see this as a factor for our daughter. The perfectionist characteristic has been present in her always, it seems quite innate. However, we can see how the added pressure at school might lead to more difficulties in the future.
Truth be told there are still breakdowns. Work is still tossed in the recycling bin. On those days we try and focus on praising her determination. I now understand that her strive to be perfect will always be a challenge for her. My hope is that she can come to appreciate the effort it takes to get to the end product. She will make many mistakes in her life. As she grows she is learning that it it okay to fall down, you can always get right back up and try again.
Today’s post is part of Golden Gleam’s parenting series We Get It: Support For Difficult Childhood Behaviour. Please hop over and take a look at the other parenting topics being covered in this series. Other topics include; night terrors, self centred, kids who touch everything, anxiety, strong willed and temper tantrums.