Tips for Teaching Perfectionists How To Draw, Write Or Do Anything They’re Bad At

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My three year old daughter can’t wear shoes that tie right now. I don’t even try to buy shoes with laces. See, she can’t figure out how to tie her shoes into pretty bows like Mommy does, and that drives her bonkers. She’ll watch me do it, fumble with the laces for a minute and then throw the shoe across the room. When she tries, she can the laces in some form of a knot. I mean, you can see where she’s going. But if it doesn’t look exactly like mine do, then it’s not right and she’s not happy.

This is not my daughter’s only perfectionist tic. We’ve always been big on reading together, but we just recently starting working on writing. I didn’t want to push too much, too soon, so I waited until the summer before pre-school to really focus on writing her letters, her name, etc. Maybe I waited too long, but my little one does not like writing. She would look at my example letters, study them carefully and then try to copy them down. After a few frustrated grunts, she would yell, “It just doens’t look right!”

When we hit this point, I knew that I needed to call in reinforcements. I can appreciate a perfectionist, having spent my childhood in the same boat, but not everything can come easily to everyone. At some point in time, kids have to practice and work hard to learn a skill. Allowing my daughter to form the habit of giving up and getting angry every time things got difficult was a dangerous path to start on. So I started researching, reading and discussing perfectionism with early childhood experts. I had to know, how to do you teach a child who is hell-bent on getting everything right the first time?

  • Buy a wipe-off board. My mother was the first resource I looked to, since she’s taught early childhood (and college classes on early childhood education) for years. The most practical piece of advice she gave me for writing was to buy a wipe-off board. It’s a quick and easy step that has helped our family tremendously! Now, when my daughter makes a mistake and starts to get frustrated, she can immediately get rid of the offending marks and start again.
  • No pressure! Perfectionists put plenty of pressure on themselves all the time. They definitely don’t need more. What they need from you is unconditional love and support. They need to know that you won’t be upset or disappointed the minute they mess up. Let them set their own goals and try to discuss them realistically.
  • No comparisons. Perfectionism often leads to a competitive drive to be the best. Competitiveness isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if your child refuses to do anything that they won’t win at, it’s an issue. So try to focus on their personal achievements without pointing out other children, either in a positive or negative fashion. They need to be working hard for themselves.
  • Discuss your own failures. If you’re trying to teach your children that it’s OK to have flaws, it’ll help to point out some of your own. Or talk about your difficulties with certain things. Most kids think that their parents are superheros. (In fact, we pretend to be superheros all the time.) Letting them know that everyone has to work hard can go a long way in giving them some perspective.