When I was in law school, Moot Court was the big thing. Famous judges came to critique us. The issues were timely and interesting.
The catch; it was completely overwhelming for me.
I was paralyzed because I knew there was no way I could do Moot Court “perfectly.” Law school and perfectionism should not appear in the same sentence.
Giftedness comes with a desire for perfection. Perfection is seldom achieved and requires enormous time management skills.
The other side of perfectionism is anxiety and possibly depression. If you are gifted and identified as having a learning disability, this double-edged sword is magnified.
Has your child been assigned a science project? A research paper? Has he needed to present in front of others?
Did it take a long time to get started? Maybe by the time you found out about the assignment or performance it was almost impossible to do it well? Perfectionists sometime sabotage their own chances. Their self-imposed expectations immobilize them.
Take the child who is excited to try out for the basketball team. She gets new basketball sneakers, practices shooting, tells Grandma. But when tryouts come around, she casually mentions to her parents that she missed the first two tryout dates. Did someone at school mention how hard it is? Or how good they are? Or how the chances weren’t good that this girl would make the team?
We may never know. But when a child goes from enthusiasm to apathy, something happened to cause her severe doubts. In this case it is best to recruit an outsider. I love this tactic. It’s when you go to someone your child admires (an older teen, a coach, a teacher, a friend) and ask them to directly invite your child to participate in the activity you know she would like to try but has anxiety about being unable to achieve.
Children with executive functioning challenges, time management and organizational struggles, have another layer of difficulty when battling the perfectionist monster. If the project or assignment requires multiple steps, they may be unable to see past the first one, let alone to the end product completed to their satisfaction.
This is when chunking comes in handy. Kids need to visualize the steps as well as the plan for completing them. Help your child break the assignment down into what each milestone requires. It may seem over simplified but teaching your child this skill is key. If it’s a diorama he is building, break it down like this; decide what size box is needed. Find the box. Put the box on the table where you will work. Make a list of what other materials you need. Gather or purchase them. Put them with the box.
All along the way, sit with a calendar working backwards from the due date of the assignment. Input when each task is to be completed. This way the child knows exactly what is expected of him each day and the long journey becomes a walk in the park.
With the perfectionist, you have to meet him head on. Ask your child, what does it (the project, the experience) look like at the end. What is the goal? What do you want to convey? After you talk about this, plan out your step-by-step process based on a calendar, and there should be significant easing of anxiety. And then, you must teach your child that sometimes “good enough is good enough” and that once you work to do your best, you must be proud of the results.
I didn’t try out for Moot Court. I was paralyzed. Even though my time management skills are strong, I just couldn’t visualize myself completing the work to my satisfaction. I regretted my decision for a long time.
But now I know the strategies necessary for completing a daunting task; chunking, calendaring and positive self-talk. I also realized that forgiving myself and allowing good enough to be good enough are lessons well learned.