As a perfectionist, a teacher, and the parent of a school-aged child, I can totally relate to the negative impact that perfectionism can have on homework achievement and achievement in general. Consider the following traits of many perfectionists and some ideas on how to counteract their negative impact.
The perfectionist is…
1. often a procrastinator – “Knowing” or fearing that you will not be able to complete an assignment or project to absolute perfection often leads a perfectionist to procrastinate. You wait until the last minute to begin so that, in the rush, you don’t have time to deal with your perfectionist standards and you have an excuse if your work doesn’t measure up to perfection.
HELP – Assist your child in setting up a schedule for doing homework or working on a project. Break a larger assignment down into small segments so that the perfectionist isn’t intimidated by the scope of perfection that will be “required” of them.
2. bogged down in the details – It might be that the handwriting isn’t neat enough, that she got a grease spot on the paper while writing it on the kitchen table, that the artwork doesn’t look as good as hoped…there are so many small details that can deem an assignment as a disaster in the eyes of the perfectionist.
HELP – Be a role model for overlooking the small imperfections of life and accepting things as being good enough. If you are painting the wall and get a little on the trim, show your child that everything has a solution or that it really isn’t that big a deal. Don’t expect absolute perfection from your child – if they have a little spot on their shirt, let them wear it anyway without making an issue out of it. If you get a little ding in the car door at the supermarket, just say “Oh well, we’ll have to park farther away from the carts next time” instead of having a fit about it. In short, teach your child to accept things as good enough and show them that even the experts make mistakes or do things that are not 100% perfect.
3. overly or undeservingly self-critical and, at the same time, unaccepting of constructive criticism – It can be difficult to try to help a perfectionist student do well on homework. Each failure or less-than-A work will cause the student to become a nervous wreck when it comes time to do a project or homework assignment. They assume that everyone thinks they are not reaching their potential and thus interpret your help as criticism.
HELP – Avoid offering too much direct criticism or helpful critiques as both are likely to be interpreted as negative criticism. Instead, show your student an article with tips for creating great science projects, check out a book at the library about homework strategies – look for information that is relevant but that comes from a third party in a very nonconfrontational way.
With gentle support and guidance, your perfectionist can excel in school and reach their full potential. Perfectionists can overcome these tendencies and learn to see that the minutiae of life are not as important as the big picture!