Learning and Perfectionism

When it comes to learning, perfectionism can be both a blessing and a curse. While it can drive students to achieve great success, it can also prevent them from taking risks and trying new things. In some cases, perfectionism can even lead to anxiety and physical symptoms, as one concerned parent found with their son’s struggles with learning and perfectionism.

Parental query:

When one of my sons was in first grade, his test results were excellent. He was in the top tier but couldn’t or wouldn’t complete any paperwork.

Things had gotten so bad. My son became sick to his stomach at school and experienced severe headaches. We discovered his problem after numerous tests. He is a stickler for detail. Despite his intelligence, he was afraid to try anything. His teacher and I were advised to brag about him even if he only signed his name. It was successful. He began to do excellent work and enjoy school. I simply wanted to explain how perfectionism can prevent children from attempting to complete schoolwork.

Our response:

Perfectionism can paralyze students, making them fearful of doing work because it may not meet their high standards. If children fail to complete their assignments, perfectionism is only one of several possibilities. To determine if perfectionism is a problem for your child, answer the following questions:

  • Is your child erasing or re-erasing work all the time?
  • Is your child irritated when plans are changed?
  • Is your child always dissatisfied with their grades, even if they are excellent?
  • Is your child fixated on mistakes rather than correct answers?
  • Is your child’s handwriting slow and precise?
  • Is your child unable to appreciate their achievements?

Having high standards is not necessarily a bad thing. If your answer is “yes” to these questions, your child may be or become a perfectionist. We are surprised that simple praise was enough to turn your child around. Many perfectionists react negatively to praise because they do not believe they deserve it.

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