How Perfectionism can Negatively Impact Homework Achievement

Perfectionism, when combined with the need to get homework finished, can be either a great impetus or an unnecessary burden. I know, because I have been a perfectionist all my life, and it began when I was in school.

I have found that a good definition of perfectionism is to have control over one aspect of life when everything else seems hopelessly out of control.

A child with tendencies to perfectionism will do her homework and then spend longer than necessary checking and rechecking it for correctness. She may keep her English assignment all the way up to the deadline for turning it in, so that she can make sure the handwriting is perfect and all the punctuation is in its proper place. She will copy and recopy until there are no mistakes, not even a pencil erasure.

One B grade can extinguish the enthusiasm a perfectionist has for a particular class. Anything less than an A+ translates to less than perfect in her mind. She may give up trying simply because of one low grade.

If the tendencies to perfection are strong enough, the child may never start on a lengthy project, like a research paper, because she feels there are too many variables that may mar her effort. This is what is called frustrated perfectionism. Not wanting to fail, the child does not begin.

A perfectionist may also be a procrastinator. Unable to face the prospect of doing and redoing a research paper, she may put it off until just before its deadline.

This type of child, if allowed, will spend all of her time at home doing schoolwork, not because she has to but because she must make her work shine.’ She may be extremely shy and avoid friendships that will keep her from concentrating on her work.

The child who is a perfectionist suffers emotionally; she is anxious over her work. Sometimes the anxiety is manifested through health problems. She also may have seriously low self-esteem. Later in life her perfectionism could lead to frustration and depression.

The perfectionist is not satisfied even with her best efforts, always figuring the paper or project needs improvement somewhere. She may ask you to listen to a paragraph. You may offer a suggestion for improvement, and she will change your suggestion or frown and say, “That doesn’t sound right either.” My mother recounts many times I did this with an assignment with which she tried to assist me.

She may not do well with group assignments, reasoning that the others in the group will not perform up to her high standards. She may take on all of the work the group is to finish just to get that A+.

She may not finish timed tests in school since she second-guesses many of her answers. Somehow the perfectionist must be trained to trust that her best efforts are good enough, and that there is a time to cease striving.