Does your child erase and redo homework over and over again until it’s just right? Is anything less than 100 percent not good enough for him or her?
Welcome to the world of the perfectionist child. Perfectionists engage in frequent hypercritical self-talk, bring themselves down and create a lot of stress within the family. With these children, the goal is to change their mindset. Begin by using the following techniques:
Reward efficiency, not grades
It’s important for parents to pay attention to how they act and react when it comes to grades. Let’s say your daughter brings home a 90 percent on a writing project. Instead, praise your child’s efficiency when she gets her work done in a timely manner without redoing it multiple times.
Perfectionists sometimes procrastinate because they fear the work they will produce won’t be good enough. Encourage your child to start with an easy task followed by a hard one and to repeat this sequence. This eases your child into homework by starting with something he or she likes.
If you see your child spending an inordinate amount of time on one homework assignment, switch gears. There are three choices: quickly finish up with the mindset that it just has to be good enough; take a much-needed break; or switch subjects and go back to that assignment later with a fresh mind.
Stick with a schedule
Starting homework at the same general time each day helps to reduce procrastination. It’s perfectly fine to help your child get started if needed. Take a few minutes to discuss the assignment and watch your child begin before you leave the room. More important than a start time is an ending time for schoolwork. Remind your child that the final product just has to be “good enough.”
Empathize, do not criticize
Try to steer clear of comments like, “Stop worrying about that,” or “You don’t always have to be perfect.” Instead, empathize with her insecurities. “I realize that you want to correct your paper, but at this point, your essay has all the qualities the teacher expects according to the directions.”
Quell test-taking anxiety
Perfectionist characteristics can spill over to test-taking. Studies show it helps when students write down their worst fears right before the test. Students who do this perform just as well as their non-anxious peers. But students who do not perform this exercise fare poorly compared with the other two groups. Taking time to release worries can make a big difference when it comes to test-day performance.
Know when you need outside help
For some children, perfectionism is just the tip of the iceberg. If your child’s symptoms are interfering with homework completion on a regular basis, consider seeking therapy. A good therapist can tackle the “all-or-nothing” and “worst-case-scenario” thinking that hampers your child. Perfectionism can be embedded in anxiety. It’s important that it is treated so that it does not result in depression or other mental health disorders. JN
Ann Dolin is president of Educational Connections Tutoring.