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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Overcoming Perfectionism

We noticed when Carolyn was very young that she had a tendency towards perfectionism.  She doesn't want to try new things and is constantly nervous that she's going to get something wrong.  We often think that the reason she didn't speak until 18 months was she was afraid to say something improperly.  Where did this come from?  We really don't know, and I don't think it could be learned at such a young age. 

I read a book this past week with ideas for how to help your child overcome these tendencies and a big part of it is to identify an perfectionist tendencies in yourself.  I've never considered myself a perfectionist.  Yes, if I'm going to do something I think it should (needs to) be done well.  But since reading this book I've been keeping an eye on my own actions to see if I am forcing any perfectionist ways onto the children.

Lo and behold, we set out to make cheese crackers this last Friday and I found myself needing to hold back.  I let the kids help with grating the cheese, although they struggled to do it very well.  I used the mixer to put everything together.  And then we started to form the crackers.  To avoid the mess of last time, we decided to just make balls.  They should all be similar in size and smooth balls, in my mind.  But allow a 3 and 5yo to participate and they will not come out that way.  I had to resist picking them up and rolling the balls just a touch more to be smooth.  After all, lumpiness wasn't going to affect the final taste.  I let the kids just put their work down on the pan, moving them only to assure they didn't bake together.  When Carolyn decided to move on to cheese sticks, we had some issues with the appropriate thickness and I did step in to assure they were thin enough to cook properly.  But in the end, the kids got in some great fine motor work and we have a wonderful finished product that is very yummy and healthy.

I will keep watching for my own innate perfectionist ways.  It can be hard with kids this age to not correct mistakes, since I like to use them as learning opportunities.  But I did learn from the book how to word my responses to their accomplishments to diminish the drive toward perfectionism.  I think this was a useful book to read just before Carolyn starts kindergarten.  I hope that by carefully crafting my responses I can diminish Carolyn's drive towards perfection and foster a new desire to try new things.  I encourage anyone reading this with small children to take a look at themselves and see if you are conveying hidden perfectionist messages toward your child.  There's enough competition in this world, let's make sure we are showing our children that as long as they try their best, it's good enough for us.

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