Thursday, July 10, 2008

I'm Coming Out

On this blog I generally have not felt free to 'let it all hang out.' Some stuff, sure, the little annoyances (like my bad spelling) you all know about. The important stuff is kept behind closed doors. When I'm having trouble with schooling (can you say panic attack?) or really, really bad days with the kids, I like to keep that to myself. But I've been spending a lot of time realizing some bad parenting things I do and beginning the process of fixing some of it. Here is a bad one!

I'm a perfectionist and instilling perfectionism in my kids! I've been seeing it over the past few months. I've felt kind of lost about the whole thing. It seemed like it could be the personality of one kid, but when the second one started erasing her letters over and over again--I just had to face facts. There was a single common denominator--me staying home with them.

So I've picked up a few parenting books again and I'm reading those along with other things I need to do with homeschooling. But I did come across this article about perfectionism at Psychology Today that explains why it's so harmful and gives a quick-start guide for appropriate techniques to use.

I know I'm the only perfectionist in the crowd and must be the only person lost in how to deal with it. But the article is interesting and maybe worth a look to see what horrors other parents are inflicting on their children. (I am being a little sarcastic--there must be at least one person reading this who is also a perfectionist with their kids. One? Hello? Bueller? Crickets!)

The funny thing is that I knew all that from when I first read my parenting books. Sometimes old habits die hard!


Dennis said...

Hi Kim,

As a recovered perfectionist and ex-teacher (of children and adults), I'll complement you for at least being aware of what's happening. In my case, the only good thing that ever came out of my schooling was the realization that there was no point in putting in all the effort sometimes. It wasn't until years later that I realized the real key to defeating perfectionism: understanding what the real goal is.

If you feel the problem is yourself, remember the lessons of Maria Montessori (I choose Montessori because you seem to have a lot of links to her work). The goal of each activity is not the activity itself, but the development of certain habits, ideas, or ways of thinking. I think if you keep this in mind when dealing with your children, you'll have no more problems. You might also find the works of John Holt helpful in this regard, if you haven't read them yet. I recommend "Learning All the Time" to start with.

As for your own perfectionism, assuming you find it a problem in yourself, you might find a lot of help in defining exactly what you want to achieve before you start an activity. Remembering your original goals as you get caught up on the details should help you get on track again.

Good luck,
Dennis Horte

Shez said...

My daughter is a perfectionist. It can become very frustrating for me when she ends up in tears because she's not performing to her expectations. I've had to ban the eraser when she draws. If I don't, she spends all her time erasing her lines. I stopped letting her write in pencil for handwriting practice, she now only writes in pen. That's helped a lot.

softwareNerd said...

Here's a related and funny little WSJ article, spun around people who re-fold clothes.

The article speaks of the practice that people get when they work in places like The Gap when they're younger. However, I think the principle is the same: they're working toward a pointless standard. The standard for folding clothes in a retail store is -- and must be -- different from the standard and purpose in a home. Echoing Dennis's post, the standard is good for a reason: for the retailer, it sells more clothes, in a home one can only offer a reason of it being "neater". I'm guilty of this too at times (not folding, but other stuff); but, honestly, it is not so much a reason as a rationalization.

With our son, we too find that one has to careful with the negatives. Providing reasons, and framing things in a way that he sees the issue more than being told the issue... all that helps. Nevertheless, no matter how well one frames things, one also simply has to keep a check on the negatives. So, for instance, I will sometimes notice a negative, but save it for later, knowing there will be many more opportunities for criticism. Occassionally, when my son is going to start a similar task, I actually try to pre-empt, by putting the criticism at the beginning of the task: "this time, try doing X while you're doing that".

Yes, I know, one does not want to lessen the criticism-quotient only to raise the nagging-quotient. So, yes, all this has to be taken as a question of balance. i.e., there are also many things that one should simply let the kid learn on his own.

Kim said...

Great, great help!

I was just talking to a friend of mine and she and I both agreed that sometimes we know that a certain task is just not for us. Both of us had our husbands teach our daughters how to ride a bike without training wheels. When we tried to do it, we inundated the kids with advice, critique, and our own frustration that they didn't learn more quickly. Fathers to the rescue! Time to give the hubbies their due.

Dennis, you're right! It is time to reread Montessori. I remember posting about how Montessori teachers deal with mistakes (by re-presenting the instructions for the lesson.

Shez, the pen for the handwriting practice. Brilliant. I'm glad I'm not the only one trying to figure it out.

SoftwareNerd, I read that article. I do want to help the kids see what was wrong. I need to back off in that same way and remember it doesn't have to be every time.

Shez said...

Kim, neither my husband, or I could teach the kids to ride their bikes. We both became too frustrated when they did not follow our advice.

Finally I asked my five foot nothing sitter to teach them. My official excuse was that DH and I were too tall and she was just the right height to hold the bikes.

Shira took all of 10 min to learn with Loraina and Ben about 20. It was totally painless with her and a nightmare with the parents. This was not our shining hour.