“The root of excellence is perfectionism. It is the driving force in the personality that propels the individual toward higher and higher goals. There is a strong correlation between perfectionism and giftedness. I have yet to meet a gifted person who wasn’t perfectionistic in some way,” Linda Kreger Silverman, Perfectionism.
Today, I want to discuss the pros/cons of one of the most common characteristic of a gifted (G/T) child. That characteristic is perfectionism. As I look back at my own childhood, I know this striving for perfection led to a lot of anxiety and depression. Part of my efforts at perfectionism were rooted in the unrealistic expectations of a parent. However, it was also paired with my own expectations. It took a lot of life-learning to reach the point where I had a healthier and balanced form of striving to do my best.
Being a mother and grammy to a pair of females who also strive for perfectionism, I see both sides of the coin from a more objective viewpoint. It is not a bad goal to want to always move forward in improving oneself. It is good to try to work on bad habits to move toward becoming more of what God wants us to be. It is good to have high standards for yourself so you do the best you can at everything you do. The Bible even talks about doing all we do as to the Lord.
The problem comes from not accepting that, no matter how hard we try, we still make mistakes. Accepting that is very important in removing the negative aspects of this two-sided coin. Those who do not accept this often will experience anxiety or depression, and can even be stuck in procrastination. It is not uncommon for those G/T children to be stuck in a project by a fear of failure. They get overwhelmed with the possibility of not being able to get everything correct, so they do not even get started.
Some children will often refuse to try to do something if they feel they cannot master the skill immediately. It is simply “too hard” and not to be attempted. This is very common among the G/T.
Other aspects of the negative side of the perfectionism include never feeling as if your work is good enough. No matter the hours of research and the number of rewrites on a paper, it is still not good enough. This constant feeling of not being good enough can also lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. Sometimes, a child can begin to feel physical symptoms due to this anxiety.
Sometimes the perfectionist will be unable to relax and enjoy just being. They feel they must be continually be working on something. Some G/Ts feel that they have no real value outside of their ability to produce.
This has some deeper spiritual aspects since we all need to learn that no one is perfect outside of God, and that our work, no matter how good, is never enough to earn our salvation. It is the dependence on God that actually will help the G/T child learn to accept their innate value, and to try their best and allow God to take care of the rest.
Ways to Help:
To help the G/T child who is experiencing the negative side of the perfectionism coin, a parent can begin by making sure you are modeling acceptance of your own mistakes, even while you always try to do your best. Also, sometimes children do not perceive your mistakes. Be open about them. It is also a good practice to have your child hear you asking God for forgiveness and even help in doing better.
Work with the child to set SMART goals, while emphasizing that it is the process of learning that is important. Never allow the child to feel that your love of them is based on how well they do on a project.
Sometimes G/T kids are so scared of failure that they refuse to take risks. I’m not talking of unhealthy risky behavior, but just trying new things, whether that is trying out for a sport or entering a contest or learning how to dive. It is good for a child to learn something that will take practice to master. This will enlarge on their view of accepting themselves for not being perfect.
Striving for perfection is not a bad thing. We all should strive to move to be more Christ-like in all things. It’s when we cannot accept our best efforts that this characteristic can become a liability. As you work with your G/T child, help them to know that they are loved at all stages of learning, even when they are unable to immediately master a skill, and that God is there to help us in our walk to be the best we can be.