Teaching a Perfectionist

(My husband will seethe over this, but I’m starting with a quote.  From his least favorite inventor.)

“I have not failed.  I have only found 10,000 ways that do not work.”

-Thomas Edison

Since September, our family has been “lightly homeschooling”.  Our oldest is only 3 1/2, so we are just doing basic preschool things, but it seemed more fitting for our family than sending her to preschool since we hope to homeschool (more formally) eventually.  She is a smart little girl, and really loves to be engaged and challenged, so my husband and I knew she would love learning new things.

What we hadn’t anticipated is that our oldest daughter tends to be quite a perfectionist, even at this tender age.  As a self-proclaimed non-perfectionist, it is very hard for me to wrap my head around a lot of her behaviors.

She will attempt putting puzzle pieces together once, but if she cannot get it on the first try, she gives up.  She will refuse to “guess” a letter or number if she isn’t 110% sure she knows what it is.  She will ask the same question several times over to make sure she understands the answer.

I, on the other hand, am happy with a poorly-made bed, just so that there are some sheets on there and the comforter isn’t crumpled up.  Although I try my hardest, I don’t wash all the dishes in the sink every night before bed.  I don’t put away laundry immediately after folding it.

Seriously, who does that?

Madeline probably will.

My husband and I are finding that in a lot of areas of her life, we have to coach Madeline to even try something new.  In roomfuls of other children, she will often shy away from trying what is being taught.  I have seen this first hand in the preschool-aged Sunday school class at our church.  I used to have a group of five year olds, and during worship time, all kids 2-5 worship together.  I watched as Madeline sat in a corner, not singing, nor dancing, watching the other children.  Having seen her sing and dance these songs with exuberance at home, I gently asked her to join everyone else, to which she refused.  She did not like to sing and dance with the other kids, she explained.

It is taking careful words and lots of conversations to help Madeline realize she can give things a try and fail a few (or many) times.  Even in front of friends or strangers.

I know perfectionism to some degree has its benefits.  I know that when Madeline tries to do something, she works very hard to do it right.  She will not leave me a mess to clean up (most of the time).  She will not leave a sloppily made bed in the morning.  She makes sure she does chores in the order she always does them (first she feeds the dog in the morning, THEN she gets the vitamins; she cannot switch the order).

As her mom, I pray I have the strength to encourage her in her strive for excellence, as well as the ability to teach her to give herself grace for her own short comings and mistakes.  She is not perfect, and never will be.  She needs to know that.  But she needs to know that she can improve any number of skills by trying, falling down, and getting back up again.


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