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Living With a Perfectionist

Are you or do you live with a perfectionist? I think there can be a little perfectionism in all of us but what I am seeing is more and more perfectionism in children. There is a difference in taking pride in what they do and wanting to achieve their best and not wanting to take risks with their learning.

Today, society is rife with perfectionism down to images being photo shopped to the extreme. Everyone looks perfect in magazines, on television, in movies and of course social media has a lot to answer to. As hard as we try and filter what our children see and hear, their perceptions are distorted as to what is acceptable. Ironically, this can impact their learning and inability to take risks. Because they see the end product, for example, in its perfect form, they haven’t seen the mistakes and work that has gone into making that image perfect. It is the same as their educational journey.

Asking students to “have a go” can sometimes be harder than it sounds. I find as a teacher and parent praising children for actually having a go and putting something on paper rather than praising the end result on the paper! Children can be afraid to have a go if it is outside their comfort zone or they know they aren’t good at it. Identifying those children who tend to be perfectionists can be easy. They will delay starting work and look at what their peers are doing, become easily frustrated and give up, become quite anxious and can be overly cautious. A task that should take 20 minutes may take over an hour or more. What we need to make children understand is that making mistakes is part of learning and that no one is perfect. Again, through modelling a positive attitude towards making mistakes is the best means of children learning it is OK to make mistakes.

In the classroom, I will check spelling words in a dictionary so students can see that I have made a mistake (deliberately) and how I handle that. Hopefully they see it isn’t the end of the world and I am not curled up on the floor in the foetal position crying! Never a good look! Writing time is a great example of teaching students who are perfectionists that writing is a process. Start with ideas, brainstorm, writing a draft and completing a final copy. Some students thrive and write so fast it can be difficult to read but they aren’t concerned. A perfectionist may write five lines with the most perfect handwriting, margins ruled and an over sharpened pencil!

If your child is a perfectionist you can assist them by talking to them about what they have achieved and their attempts. Discuss that just because things aren’t perfect doesn’t mean you are a failure or if you disappoint someone you are not a bad person. If they see you make a mistake, positive comments such as, “We all make mistakes” or “At least I tried my best” are ways of reinforcing mistakes are OK

to make.

Albert Einstein sums this up beautifully. “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

Oh so true!

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