Perfectionism is an extremely common issue with gifted children. Wiser people than me have already written great information on this already. But here’s a very recent example of how perfectionism causes problems in my own family.
My son Bruce(6.5) forgot his math binder at school yesterday. This prompted him to have a mini freak-out, even though I calmly explained that we could go online and print out his homework without any problem. Well, not according to Bruce! The homework that prints out from our computer is not in the exact format as his homework workbook, thus it looks decidedly different and is therefore unacceptable according to Bruce. Intense discussion ensued.
The resolution was that Bruce was willing to do the printed out homework, but unwilling to turn it in. He would rather take his lumps than turn in weirdly formatted homework. Not only that, but under no circumstances would Bruce allow me to email his teacher to let her know that he had in fact completed his homework.
This is where the story reaches crazy on a multigenerational level. It took me about two minutes before I realized that I myself was extremely uncomfortable with Bruce’s teacher thinking that I allowed him to skip his homework! What type of derelict person will she think I am? She knows that I know perfectly well that I could print it off of the computer. Oh my gosh, I can hardly stand not sending that email! I can feel the tension building up inside me, even though from an intellectual standpoint, I know that I am being neurotic and need to let it go. But try telling that to a perfectionist.
When I was in third grade I had horrible issues with perfectionism. Reportedly, I once told my mother that “From now on Mom, I’ve decided I’m going to be perfect. Have you noticed how clean my room is lately?” My parents, who at the time didn’t know about the damage perfectionism causes in gifted people, thought my new attitude was great. Luckily, my third grade teacher Mrs. McClintock came to my rescue. In a conference with my parents she came down pretty harsh, and said in no uncertain terms that perfectionism in gifted children should not be encouraged. It is psychologically damaging.
The answer of how to deal with all of this is still something that my whole family struggles with. My extended family struggles with it too. You should see how clean my sister in law’s house is! I think the advice that has helped me the most is something I heard at the 2011 SENG conference. It was to frequently use the phrase “That’s good enough,” both with your children and yourself. Modeling this cognitive behavior is really important for kids. Example: “This cake I baked isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough.” This is advice that I have really taken to heart. The more that my children hear me say that it’s okay not to be perfect, the better it will be for our whole family.