Yes, you read the title right. I’m defending perfectionism. To be clear – I don’t expect perfection from my kids, myself, my husband or anyone. After all, that is a crazy standard to achieve – being 100% correct, accurate, right, 100% of the time? Nope.
Not even close. Probably not even possible.
So why would I defend perfectionism, because clearly it is indefensible? Perfection in all things is a goal that is absolutely unattainable.
The truth is, I can’t defend perfectionism, but I can defend and advocate for the kid who is labeled as a perfectionist. You know that kid:
- the one who is frustrated by a 95 test grade
- the one who will work on an essay until well after a normal bedtime, just to get it right
- the one who can’t stop working on a puzzle, until it is complete
- the one who won’t take direction/correction about schoolwork
- the one who frequently corrects your word choice, in honor of a more fitting word
- the one who takes jokes so literally, that the meaning is lost.
It’s easy to call these kids perfectionists. They are seeking a high standard. A goal that well surpasses the average. They like to get things right. Right doesn’t always mean perfect. Sometimes right is more closely aligned with a desire for precision than for perfection.
What’s the difference?
Sets extremely high goals.
May have difficulty prioritizing tasks.
Very sensitive to criticism.
Frequently self-critical when goals are missed
May experience unproductive anxiety about reaching goals.
May experience physical discomfort if expectations are not met.
Highly values being correct.
Makes decisions quickly.
Open to reevaluating with more information.
Parses information quickly.
Details matter – sometimes to the extreme.
Large vocabulary; may frequently use secondary definitions.
At this point, you may think that I am parsing words. That’s probably because I am. It is easy to lump both categories of kids into the same bucket – the high achievement bucket. But the crucial difference between kids who are perfectionists and the kids who are precise is in their emotional attachment to the outcome. Perfectionists feel a sense of profound loss (and sometimes worthlessness) when they don’t live up to their enormous standards. Precise kids are likely to get annoyed when someone else doesn’t understand or appreciate their exacting language, but they are unlikely to feel unworthy or defeated.
So why does all this matter?
It matters, because if we see perfectionism and precision as bad or inherently defective thought processes, then we’ll work hard to help our children rid themselves of these traits. Perfectionism gets a bad rap. But let’s face it; there are lots of professions out there, where we expect precision, if not perfection.
If your child is naturally precise, learn to embrace and encourage it, while balancing against the fear of failure and unreasonable expectations.
If we parent all the precision and perfectionism out of kids when they are young, then we are precluding them from joining countless professions that require it: law, science, engineering, programming, and more. I’m not interested in limiting my child’s horizons before he even has a chance to explore them – I’m betting you aren’t interested in this, either.
I’m a huge proponent of parenting to my kids strengths. Sometimes that means embracing the precision, even if it goes well beyond my own need for accuracy. Embracing doesn’t mean that there is no teaching/parenting/coaching left to be done. Rather it means I must respect the way my kids are wired, how their brains process information. Once I can respect the precision and only after I see it’s value, then I can help my kids understand how to use it effectively – when it matters and helps versus when it interferes and hinders.
Helping our kids ignite their passions, find balance in their lives, and navigate social norms will always be part of the work of parenthood. This doesn’t change if our kids seek perfection or precision. We must respect these natural tendencies, while helping them guard against the negative self-apprasial that can accompany perfectionism.
This post was written as part of a blog hop hosted by The Gifted Homeschoolers Forum.
Check out other folk’s take on Perfectionism and Other Gifted/2E Quirks.