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Perfectionist 10 Year Old

Question

My eldest daughter is a perfectionist. She is a very organized person and is doing well in school. However, whenever she can't solve a homework problem or she struggles with new song on the piano, she will get agitated, burst out in anger, and cry. She even gets mad with those who try to help. She is turning 10 soon and is yet to overcome it. How should I handle it?

Answer

This is a great time to start addressing this with your daughter so that she is better able to tolerate mistakes as a teen and adult someday.

A short answer to your question would be to calmly send her to her room or other designated part of the house for some quiet reflection time whenever she has an angry meltdown about homework, piano, etc. It is not a punishment, but an opportunity away from everyone else to calm down; then she can rejoin the family or go back to her work when she has finished her outburst and is calm. The goal of this is to help her learn better self-regulation skills, and also reinforce the idea that she can be upset on her own time but cannot take it out on other family members who happen to be in the vicinity.

A longer answer; if you would like to address it further and focus on the character values you would like to instill in her (not during or after an angry outburst, she can still calm herself down in her room immediately following an outburst). The following are just suggestions; you may already have other ideas based on what you know about your daughter. Don't be afraid to get creative. I had trouble with perfectionist tendencies as a child, and remember very clearly one day after an angry outburst that disrupted the entire family, my mom had me sit down and write out 100 times "I can choose to be perfect or I can choose to learn". At the time I thought it was ridiculous, but 20 years later it still pops into my head sometimes and helps me refocus on what is important.

There are many resources online that discuss the idea of a "growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset". Perhaps you can watch a short video about it together on YouTube or assign her a project of doing research on the advantages and disadvantages of each, or have her make a chart with different things she can tell herself when she is frustrated (Example: https://goo.gl/pZose6 ).

Ultimately she will be unhappy and make others around her unhappy if she does not work on accepting that everyone makes mistakes and most of the time mistakes are how we learn. She can strive to do her best which is different from being perfect. Encourage her to try again (after calming down in her room if needed) and encourage the process of working hard on something to help her learn to not always focus on the end result. Struggling to do our best and improve our skills builds character, and it sounds like she has the potential to accomplish a lot once she lets go of the idea that she has to do everything perfectly.

Hope some of that helps and keep us updated,

Christina Calkins
Certified Rosemond Parenting Coach
christinafamilyconsulting@gmail.com

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