Monday, February 13, 2017

Perfectionism

Many things seem to come easily to The Bean. As great as this seems, we're starting to see the flip side. We've been noticing that he often gets quite frustrated when he isn't able to do things as well as he would like.

We try to be cognizant of praising his efforts rather than his ability. That is, more, "You worked so hard today in swimming class! You figured out how to get your legs straight on your kicks!" Rather than, "You're such an awesome swimmer! You kick your legs so hard!" Yet he still always seems to want to be the fastest/strongest/best. I'm not sure if it's common for this age, if it's his personality, or if there are a whole variety of factors all coming into play. I have to admit though, it's not his best quality.

This drive also does not bring out the best in him. He will stack the deck before playing a game of cards. (Sweetly, but perhaps counter-productive to his end-goal, he will also stack the decks of other players.) He will brag about how he was the fastest in his skating class... even if he wasn't.

He hasn't been as into swimming lately and has saying that he wishes he could go back to his previous level. Last week I watched his class a little more closely than usual to see what was going on that could be making him feel this way. I observed that his swim instructor seems to pit the kids against each other in many of the drills that they do. The mama bear in me wants to call the head instructor and ask if something can be done differently --cooperative games rather than competitive ones --more time in the shallow area of the pool where The Bean feels safe and secure. The rational part of my brain tells me to back off and let me experience what it's like not to be the best.

In many ways I can relate to his frustration. I hate it when I know I've messed something up. I don't like to be second best or to know I could have done better. I can be very hard on myself. I put a lot of stress on myself worrying about things that are often relatively inconsequential.

While I want The Bean to do his best, I don't want him to think he has to be the best.

Has anyone been through this with their kids? Any words of wisdom? How would you deal with a kid who has to be the best.

2 comments:

  1. I think everyone goes through this truthfully, to different degrees.

    Riley hated her first swim class because she had visions of being the best but she wasn't. She didn't know how to do the proper techniques and she wasn't what she had envisioned. We just explained that it was new and the instructor is there to critque everyone's form so it is not a bad thing when she is told ways to improve. We keep on with the lessons and her attitude as improved.

    Our boys compete with EVERYTHING so that if they even draw a picture, I am told I have to judge whose is better. If they take a drink out of a straw, I feel like they'll say they are better at it than the other. Competition and wanting to be THE BEST seems to be pretty normal.

    We just keep on talking about how everyone is good at something and not everything. So we talk about the things that they do well and how some things will be harder and take more effort. That some people have more natural abilities in art, sports, writing, reading, math, etc. and others have to put a little more work into doing well in those things.

    I think this swimming lesson will be a good lesson for him. I try to squash the kids comments when they are annoyed by someone being better and simply say, "That's great that he/she does so well at that. It sounds like that is something they excel at."

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  2. You have just described Erik to a T. It can be very challenging to manage and I've found it harder as he gets older. He now has quite a bit of anxiety around perfectionism but at the same time seems to have low self-esteem (which he covers up by saying he's the best etc.) It's both sad and frustrating and it's been an ongoing process to figure out how to manage and try to ensure that hes not anxious etc while also trying to teach him how he may be coming across to people when his need for perfection affects them (example, he's had quite a few scuffles at school this year because he CANNOT let it go if kids are not playing a game, such as soccer, by the rules.)

    We try to make sure not to put additional pressure on him and to praise his achievements. We also try to move the focus from the things that cause him anxiety to praise about other things. (Instead of, "Wow, you got an A!", I try to say something, "I really love the way you coloured this part of the project, it looks really great".)

    We often have the talk Stacey mentioned above about how some people have to work harder at certain things than other people, although I don't find its something he takes in or agrees with. Still we say it often.

    We also have him in counselling for the anxiety he experiences and it has really helped. He is now able to identify, at least some of the time, when he is experiencing anxiety. Then we just have to help him figure out why and it always had something to do with worry about doing well etc.

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