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When Perfectionist Children Get Discouraged

By Heather Idoni

Added Monday, August 13, 2007

The Homeschooler's Notebook
Encouragement and Advice for Homeschool Families
Vol. 8 No 64 August 13, 2007
ISSN: 1536-2035
Copyright (c) 2007 - Heather Idoni, FamilyClassroom.net

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Notes from Heather
-- Be Sure Not to Miss This...
Helpful Tips
-- 15% off at Michaels
Resource Review
-- Homeschooling at the Speed of Life
Reader Question
-- Discouraged Perfectionist Kids
Additional Notes
-- Searchable Archive
-- Our Email Group
-- Sponsorship Information
-- Reprint Information
-- Subscriber Information

Notes from Heather

Be sure you take time to read the question and answer
'conversation' in our Reader Question section this issue. It
is very rich! It is especially valuable if you have a child who
gets discouraged quickly about seemingly overwhelming tasks or
new skills to be learned. I have a few of those! I think it can
affect *any* child, however it was a big topic of discussion
recently on our Homeschooling Gifted email group.


Do you have comments to share? Please do!
Send your emails to: heather @ familyclassroom.net



Helpful Tip

Special Savings For Teachers -- at Michaels Stores

"For teachers who inspire young minds every day, we're returning
the favor. Teacher Appreciation Week is August 12-18 (US) and
August 11-17 (Canada). Get inspired with a 15% discount on your
next creative adventure. The discount applies to everything in
the store, including sale items. Teachers also can enter a draw-
ing for a chance to win a $1,000 Michaels gift card, a classroom
full of cool Crayola products and other great prizes.

Info related to this offer particularly for HOMESCHOOLING parents:

"August 12th - 18th is 'Teacher Appreciation' week at Michaels.
Michaels will be offering a 15% discount off of the total purchase
for teachers. As a home school teacher you are eligible for the
discount as long as you have documentation that you are a home
school teacher. If you have any other questions please do not
hesitate to contact Michaels Customer Care at 1-800-642-4235."

-- Thanks, Ruthanne, for your work in verifying that homeschoolers
are eligible for this discount! :-)


Do you have an idea, experience, or tip to share? Please write!
Send to: HN-ideas @ familyclassroom.net

Resource Review

Homeschooling at the Speed of Life by Marilyn Rockett

For more information or to order:

Or the author's site: http://www.marilynrockett.com


Let's face it, being a homeschool mom can be overwhelming! I don't
know about you, but on the really good 'school' days, my house gets
no attention. Then on the days I get a lot done around the house,
schoolwork seems to get pushed aside, or pushed through with tears
as mom hurries everyone along so I can get 'something done'. Although
I am making progress, I am definitely in need of assistance when it
comes to organizational skills!

Thankfully, Marilyn Rockett has 'been there, done that', and she's
written a helpful resource filled with tools and techniques that she
found brought order and balance to her home. 'Homeschooling at the
Speed of Life' is more than just another book on how to get organized.
In fact, she begins by challenging her readers with a new definition
of organization – 'Organization is making your life work for you by
bringing the dailiness of life under control through yielding to the
Holy Spirit concerning the wise use of your time'. Working from that
mindset, the reader is led through chapters filled with encouragement,
inspiration and practical advice for balancing home, school and family
in the very real, fast-paced world.

Homeschooling at the Speed of Life takes the reader from inspiration
to action. Topics include home organization, teaching children life
skills, taming clutter, hospitality, a family not a school, homeschool
record keeping, and more. At the end of each chapter Marilyn invites
interaction and reflection by asking us to 'Stop, Look and Think'.
Here we find several questions for reflection along with scripture
references for further study. In addition to all the practical advice,
there are inspirational and challenging quotes scattered liberally
throughout the book. Many of these quotes have ended up in my journal
or written on note cards and placed in strategic places throughout my

I really like the author's tone throughout this book. There are so
many great ideas, yet I never felt like she was saying, 'You must do
it THIS way'. Marilyn truly wants to give overwhelmed moms like me
hope, not another list or system that is supposed to be one-size fits
all! Oh, don’t worry, she has included practical tips and an abundance
of resources throughout the book and on the included CD; however, she
reminds us that we must continue to turn to God for wisdom on how to
use these tools in our individual homes.

I've added Homeschooling at the Speed of Life to my list of books that
I turn to at the beginning of each school year for inspiration and
encouragement. I believe it is destined to become a classic, must-have
for homeschool moms everywhere.

-- Cindy Prechtel - http://www.HomeschoolingFromTheHeart.com

Last Issue's Reader Question

[Note: There was no reader question put forward in our last issue,
but recently we had a discussion on our Homeschooling Gifted group
that provoked some great responses. I thought I'd share part of
this 'conversation' here with you -- what I could fit of it! This
particular dilemma can come up with any child who is a 'perfection-
ist' type, not just gifted children. I also thought you'd enjoy a
little peek into our Homeschooling Gifted group. ;-) -- Heather]


Danielle wrote:

"Because of my son's intelligence, he expects to understand things
instantly. When he has any kind of a struggle mentally (or in any
other area, for that matter), he has a meltdown and says 'I can't
do it'. It is so frustrating to me when he simply gives up,
especially when I know all he has to do is listen carefully to me
and he will get it! It is this attitude of, 'If I can't do it per-
fectly the very first (or maybe second) time, then I will not do it
at all.' Also, I have often been in the middle of explaining things
more when he blurts out the above automatic response without even
listening to what I am saying. He's already decided that he can't
do it without even listening to further explanation. I know that I
need to be more patient with him, but I want to address the spiritual
aspect of this. I really believe that this comes back to being lazy.
He expects things to be easy (because he rarely has to work to under-
stand anything) and when they aren't, he gives up. No matter how
intelligent he is, if he always has this kind of attitude, he will
never have the perseverance to push through problems and work hard
to come up with solutions.

I would especially appreciate any verses that have helped your kids
or any other way you address the spiritual aspects of this problem."

The Conversation

"One thing I tell my kids is 'anything worth doing is worth doing

The first time I heard that, I thought (with my great public-school
mentality), was 'that's the dumbest thing I ever heard!' But on
reflection, it's true. What worthwhile thing comes easy the first
time? Most worthwhile things involve some failure at the beginning,
some practice, some learning from repetition. Most first businesses
fail, yet successful businesspeople try again until they succeed."
-- Diane


"In my experience, some kids whiz around at great speed, but bounce
off any obstacle. In a way, they remind me of ping-pong balls. With
little mass, they have a lot of kinetic energy, but no momentum to
speak of. Plowing through is not their strength.

How do you get kids to be more 'massive'? To have gravitas? I wish
I knew! My best guess is that it all comes down to having a sure
sense of self.

To stretch the metaphor, ping-pong balls are hollow. They are just a
brittle shell. They look more substantial than they really are.
With gifted kids, puffery is a constant risk. Teachers and relatives
inevitably tell them, 'Wow, you're smart!' And, even if nobody says
it, the kids can tell they are smarter than average. Through no
malice or fault, swell heads are bound to result. Behind the big
facade of excellence and precocious achievement may be a small and
frightened child: Nurture the real self, and perhaps they will grow
more solid.

Maybe the ability to plow through obstacles is just a learnable skill,
not a personality trait. If so, then my whole theory is bunk. But,
it rings true for many kids I've known. If not your own kids, maybe
some others may find it useful." -- Brian


"The book of James, chapter 1, has a wonderful passage about consider-
ing it pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds, because the
testing of our faith produces perseverance. I think that applies to
academic challenges, physical challenges, everything!

Also, I Corinthians 12 has a section about how the body of Christ is
composed of many parts, and that each part has a purpose. Inherent
in that is that not everyone has every gift. So while some people
are more gifted in general then other people, no one is good at

I read somewhere that actually extremely gifted people are often not
terribly successful in life. That rather makes sense to me because
if everything comes easily when they are young, they don't develop
perseverance muscles. So I am trying to remind my children that
actually working hard at something can be a good thing. It streng-
thens our minds and our wills when we work hard to learn something.

My eldest (who is 7) also gets upset easily when she can't understand
something quickly, so it is probably a very common trait among the
gifted. I too have found just telling her that she needs to listen
for a short time helps. She does get it if she can get over her
frustration about not getting it instantly.

And yes, I think perfectionism and fear of failure can be factors.

Lots of good stuff has been said already; this is just my 2 cents
worth." -- Laraba


"I have a 6 year old girl who does the same thing. She does it
more on the emotional stage, when things socially, or life, isn't
going her way. I have discovered two wonderful resources both
from the same company. Doorposts.net is run by a homeschooling
family and they produce the most wonderful, practical application
of scripture I have ever seen. They have an IF-THEN chart that
lists 10 sin issues we deal with daily. (Arguing, picking fights,
lying, disobedience, etc.) Then it lists a scripture which
addresses the heart of the issue. - (EX. disrespect - 'Yes, all
of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility.'
- I Peter 3:5). They also have a Blessings chart which lists more
issues which are the opposite - the blessing (cheerfulness, peace-
making, obedience, etc.) and then usually several verses to address
the blessing of wisdom. These come in poster size, and we have
them in cheap poster frames. We drag them all over our house. The
other day when my daughter went off, she went and got the chart
and I asked her to identify what was going on in her heart. (She
pointed out over 5 issues!) - and then we started to read the
blessings chart. Her discipline was to train her heart to have
'A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance' - Prov. 15:13. Every
time she was frustrated - 'I can't do it, I hate this', etc., she
was to think of 10 things at that moment she could be grateful for.
And if she couldn't she had to ask me or her dad for help. The
other language I use is asking whether they want to be wise or
foolish, which I think works particularly well with my highly
gifted daughter. She definitely identifies with wisdom, and
doesn't want to think of herself as foolish. We explain (mostly
from Proverbs) how men who follow their own selfish hearts and
feelings are fools, and following God's word and wisdom brings wis-
dom to our own lives and hearts.

A couple of other resources - and then I'll stop! Doorposts also
has an incredible book I use - 'For Instruction in Righteousness',
which digs very deep into sinful issues of the heart - a wonderful
reference guide to look at specific sins - and it gives multiple
takes on pride, arrogance, boasting, etc. It lists multitudes of
scripture and gives suggestions of teaching points, activities,
and discipline to help understand what is truly going on. (I use
it myself when tempted to dwell in unhealthy attitudes). They also
produce two books - one for boys (Plants Grown Up), and one for
girls (Polished Cornerstones), to positively impart wisdom through
Bible study, activities, and innumerable suggestions!

If you are wanting to address the sinful attitudes then this is how
I've been able to implement it daily and routinely into our day."
-- Jen


"One thing I try to make sure to do is to praise my children's
work effort and not necessarily the end product. I'll talk about
how using the screwdriver was fun, how handling the paint and
mixing was interesting and the textures were so amazing, but I'll
leave out talking about the end product many times. This way they
don't think the end product is the point of the work, but that
enjoyment of the work itself is the fun of the project." -- Arlynn


"Regarding what Arlynn said -- I have this article of issues of
praise which discusses ways to encourage kids to extend their
thinking rather than shut it down. Saying 'you're right' about a
math problem stops all thinking on that concept, where you could
instead say, 'This looks right in this case; do you think it will
be true for all problems like this?' The main point in this
article is similar to what Arlynn mentioned and that is to cele-
brate the process, explore their thinking with them, and even
follow out some outlandish ideas in order to see where they lead.
This is a way to change the environment of the home - so that
their thinking matters. Mistakes are part of thinking through
things and not something to be avoided. The end product of 'being
right, being bright' is not emphasized, but the process of good
thinking. Hashing things out together in a safe environment frees
them to think creatively.

I have a little guy who is very creative - but he can be shut down
quickly. I think Brian's post about having a strong sense of self
explained this. My little guy gets discouraged easily, is afraid
to be wrong, or look foolish. He quits easily. So for him, I
need to listen to his ideas and respond VERY POSITIVELY. But
praise which says 'great job' is not what I mean, rather believing
in him, caring about his way of looking at things, discussing
things with him in meaningful ways -- that is the kind of encour-
agement he needs to open up, persist and try new things.

Rather than point out his sinful attitudes, I wonder if asking him
good questions to help him see things about himself might be help-
ful. A book called 'Age of Opportunity' encourages this kind of
conversation between parent and child. It doesn't come naturally
to me though and I need to keep rereading it. I like to just
quickly get to the point - 'You are being selfish; you need to...'
This shuts down my little guy and truthfully would shut me down if
I were spoken to this way. I would rather have someone ask me what
effect I want to have on my sister, how did I communicate with her,
what was my tone of voice, was I looking for ways to build her up,
etc. Looking at the verses in the Bible which address these atti-
tudes and asking good open-ended questions which address the heart
is far more effective with me and is an approach I am seeking to
take with my children, though I resort to my old ways all too often!

Danielle, you are quite analytical - I am sure you will think this
through very carefully and prayerfully -- and may God give you
wisdom." -- Vicki


"Try Phillipians 4:13 - I can do all things through Christ who
strengthens me.

But don't throw Bible verses at him when he's frustrated. Especially
not if he knows the Bible well enough to throw counter verses back
at you!

I have been where your son is and I wish that my adults had pushed me
harder when I was his age.

One thing I would say is don't let his whining 'I can't' make you
lower your expectations. Give him tasks (even nonacademic) where he
has to try and can't slide through on natural ability. This can be a
project (building, sewing, etc), a sport, or a hobby.

The only way he will learn to survive when he fails is to fail."
-- Paula


"I have observed the same thing with my gifted daughter (nearly 10).
It's a fine line to walk with her -- if it's too easy, she's bored.
If she doesn't catch on fairly quickly, she gets frustrated and
emotional. It took a while, but I've learned that the emotional
response is usually a clue that she's not understanding something and
is feeling threatened. I used to respond to it more as a discipline
issue; now I try to look at what's behind the behavior.

Probably the best thing for her in addressing this issue has been
piano lessons. We've had some battles from time to time, especially
when she got to the point where the songs were too challenging to
master in one week and she had to really work on something rather
than quitting. We still battle at times, but now she will also come
to me and say, 'Mommy, I need some help with this song'. This doesn't
necessarily guarantee she'll listen to what I have to say, but at
least she's asking! And after 2+ years of lessons, she has now
gotten to the point where she can play songs which sound truly impres-
sive and give her a real sense of accomplishment. I think we're over
the hump and she's come to see that sometimes worthwhile things don't
come quickly. I was very proud this spring when she worked on a Bach
minuet for 3-4 months before finally mastering it. So anyway, it's
not a complete solution, but for us, having her do something which
did require practice and where she couldn't experience instant success
was very helpful in teaching her discipline and perseverance. Of
course, I'm sure we will still be dealing with this same issue in
various manifestations for a long time yet.

We're coming out of public school, and I have also pointed out to her
from time to time that many of her classmates work much harder than she
does to accomplish less. My point to her is that they have just as
much reason to celebrate as she does, and that she should not take her
abilities for granted or feel affronted if she has to work over time
to achieve something.

I agree that this is a common issue with gifted kids -- helping them
overcome it is likely to be an ongoing challenge for parents and some-
thing which is as important to real-life success as any academic
subject." -- Deborah


"We have struggled at various times with this same thing with both
kids. Here are a few things we've done:

1. 'If it's worth doing well, it is worth doing imperfectly at first.'
or 'That's okay. You're not *supposed* to know it,' said with a hug
on a good day.

2. Don't make the end goal understanding but the end goal to give it
a cheerful, diligent effort. Use the particular lesson as a tool but
not the goal in and of itself. I used to set a timer for 15 minutes
(depending on what you're doing it could be more or less). He had
to give it a good effort with a cheerful attitude (or at least not
throwing a fit!) until the timer went off. My first comment was
always on his attitude/character issue. THEN we looked at the work.
I often said, 'I don't care if get some wrong. Right now I want you
to work on just giving it your best effort. I'm happy to help if you
need it. Please just ask'. He had gotten to a point of playing the
victim - 'I can't do it' and then putting his pencil down as if that
absolved him of even trying.

3. Watch 'Facing the Giants' -- great movie with some wonderful les-
sons. We have repeated several times, 'Give God your VERY best and
if it goes well, we praise Him. If it goes poorly, we praise Him'.

4. Model for them learning something new and the ability to be able
to laugh at oneself. Take up the piano, learn something new on the
computer, plant a new kind of rose bush...

5. We have also discussed how the attitude of, 'I *can't* get it,'
and flipping out is counterproductive. 'Do you think where you are
right now is going to help us accomplish the task of learning this
new concept/skill?' This is best done either right away before they
have a melt down or outside of the conflict. My son and I worked out
a code word system that helped him recognize he was beginning to 'go
down that road'. This was of course after several completely ridi-
culous meltdowns where he was able to acknowledge that it wasn't what
he wanted to happen but he wasn't sure how to not do it. He gave me
permission to help him and use the code word.

6. I also asked him, again outside of conflict, 'Is there a way
that I can respond that would be helpful?' ...or 'What would you like
me to say/do in this kind of instance? I feel as if I'm making
things worse here. I don't want to be a part of the problem'. Turns
out I was unwittingly communicating impatience to him by something I
was saying. In the end, he is still responsible for his choices but
we recognize that it's a two-way street. We can support one-another
in our goal of being more Christlike.

7. Patience, patience, patience! My biggest mistake (well, at least
one of them) was getting emotionally sucked into the whole thing and
starting to flip out myself. REALLY not helpful. I had to figure
out my game plan, so to speak, before we were even in the situation
so I could think rationally and calmly IN the situation. This really

8. Praying with my son at the beginning of what looked like a melt-
down, at a time when he could still 'hear' me. For him at some point,
there is a point of no return and I just had to let him get control
in his room before we could progress any further.

9. I resolved that it didn't matter if we got NOTHING else accom-
plished this year, that was okay if we could get a handle on this
attitude. That helped free me from some of my self-imposed 'panic'
that we weren't progressing. In the end, did it matter if we finished
the whole math or English book if we'd lost his heart. I had to set
a priority.

10. Get him involved in activitities that don't come easily and pre-
pare him ahead of time to be able to laugh at himself. Encourage him
to have fun and give it his best effort. Again, stress that you don't
care if he never becomes a world-class tennis player. You want him
and those around him to have fun and to learn something new. This is
where letting him see you learn something new really helps. Better
yet, learn something new *together*.

Blessings as you seek Him in this and hang in there!" -- Adele


"Danielle -- Thank you for requesting this 'advice'. I'm amazed at
how many rich responses have resulted! And I was so needing the same
advice myself, as my 6-year-old son throws a tantrum almost every time
he encounters a new word during his daily read-aloud-to-Mama session...

Here's a quote I love from Thomas Alva Edison:

'Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration... I never did anything
worth doing by accident, nor did any of my inventions come by accident.
They came by work.'

And one I love from the scriptures (for those times I distinctly smell

'Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor.'
- Proverbs 12:24" -- Edie


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