Helping Students Who are Perfectionists
If you have ever known a perfectionist you are already aware of how easily he or she can become frustrated. The need for perfection is such an overriding desire that all other considerations fly out the rational mind.
What Makes a Perfectionist?
One theory about this behavior is that perfectionists try to protect themselves from embarrassment, criticism, anger and the withdrawal of love or approval by controlling the environment and the reactions of others. Perfectionist can become highly anxious when a mistake is made and usually have a chronic fear of being humiliated which can stem from self-esteem issues based on a excessive need for a perfect performance. Perfectionists will often have strong feelings of inadequacy and will view themselves as failures because of their high expectations.
This fear of making errors or wrong decisions, a desire to avoid criticism, cautiousness and the need to know and follow rules are usually positive traits but within the perfectionist’s mind the rigid rules and excessive compulsions can result in substantial pain. This pain can also lead to severe bouts of anger.
These behaviors can also cause problems for teachers as well as parents.
Perfectionist and Behavior Problems
With children who have perfectionist tendencies, this behavior can interfere with functioning in the classroom. The child’s expectations for his or her work are so high that completing or even starting the work is often hindered. This only adds to a diminished self-esteem, a high level o feelings of inadequacy, poor performance and high levels of anxiety. This high level of perfectionism can also be exhibited in stage fright, headaches, depression and even suicidal behavior.
This trait can often be found in gifted children and seems to result from a desire to be the best. Parents may be responsible for fostering this behavior either by example or by placing too many high expectations on their child.This causes many gifted children to refuse many activities where there might be a chance of failure.
Perfectionist and Burnout
Gifted children who constantly attempt to be perfect can be susceptible to burnout. Of course this is true of any student who over extends and has a need to be perfect and can be observed in non –gifted students, even learning disabled students.
Perfection often has the opposite effect from what the individual expects. Instead of bringing praise and accolades, it often causes anxiety, frustration, and contributes to a low self-esteem. It is easy for teachers as well as parents to become annoyed with students who try to have every effort be perfect. The following are some strategies that may be used by teachers as well as parents when working with perfectionist:
• Praise effort, not just the end results.
• Mark correct answers on papers not incorrect
• Provide realistic goals
• Discuss your own weaknesses so that students may realize we are all human
• Encourage being comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity
• Provide permission to make mistakes and discuss the benefits
• Model and encourage relaxation, meditation, and listening to soothing music
• Give praise for accomplishments that have nothing to do with achievement; i.e. sharing, cooperating, playing well together
• Have a child list the advantages and disadvantages of perfectionism
• Temper tendency toward negative self-appraisal when performance did not meet unrealistic standards
Working with a student who is a perfectionist can be daunting at times because the child expects so much more of what he or she turns in. Many times the teacher, as well as parents, will become frustrated and perhaps even angry when a child uses excessive energy and time to make sure class work and/or projects are perfect. With a little well aimed praise and modeling it is possible to make a perfectionist realize that nobody is perfect and that it is the imperfections that make life so enjoyable.