Tag Archives: talk

The Perfectionist Child

9 Jul

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From the Parenting Place

Family coach Jenny Hale explains how to encourage a perfectionist to lower their expectations and simply have a go, rather than being so afraid of failure that they are afraid to even try.

One of the great dreams parents have for their children, is that they will reach their full potential and use their gifts, natural abilities and strengths. So when a child is afraid of taking a risk, uncertain about whether to give something a try, and is devastated when a mistake is made, parents naturally feel concerned because they know life is full of opportunities, and that progress is made when there is a willingness to give things a go.

I meet lots of parents who are concerned about their child’s perfectionist tendencies. These are some of the characteristics that worry them. The perfectionist child:

  • Doesn’t like trying new things
  • Watches on the sideline for ages before attempting to do something
  • Hates to be corrected
  • Is devastated when they get something wrong
  • Often screws up their work in frustration
  • Blames someone else for their mistakes
  • Has incredibly high standards that are self-imposed
  • Under-achieves for fear of failure
  • Is easily embarrassed if in the limelight
  • Puts themselves down unnecessarily
  • Is easily disappointed in life’s events
  • Is very competitive and hates to lose
  • Controls others so they can manage the outcome
  • Procrastinates and finds it difficult to make a decision
  • Is anxious about quite a few things

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The good news is that it is possible to live harmoniously with a perfectionist, and give them some tools for handling life with a different outlook.

Be understanding if you live with a perfectionist. They don’t get along too well with themselves so they really need someone who ‘gets them,’ and is gentle with them. They need you to be on their side. Talking to your child about their temperament helps clarify what is driving them. It also helps them understand what is going on inside their head when they feel cross or anxious.

Openly support the making of mistakes. A perfectionist child often has a perfectionist parent! Be prepared to share your mistakes and let children see that it is normal and acceptable to get things wrong, or do a job that is less than perfect. If you leave something out of a recipe and it’s a flop, let your children see that you are not beating yourself up. In fact, you can laugh at yourself! Celebrate mistakes with a family motto; ‘In our family we make mistakes because that is how you learn.’ It takes the sting out of a mistake if the whole family embraces it.

Children can be inspired by someone else’s story of challenge and triumph. It may be your next door neighbour who has been to nine job interviews without yet landing one, but is not giving up. Research a famous sportsperson or actor who encountered many failures and challenges on the way to success. Let them know that the reason behind the success had as much to do with perseverance and a tolerance for making mistakes, as it did natural talent.

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Encourage your children to see humility as a good attitude. Being able to accept their limitations and acknowledge another’s success, helps a child accommodate their own losses. Humility helps children to be supportive of others when they win or lose. Model phrases such as, “That was a great game of chess you played Thomas, thanks for playing with me.”

Perfectionists need to develop flexible, elastic thinking. You can give your child examples of this in a practical way. Show how a partly deflated ball hits the ground and stays there, but when it is full of air it hits the ground and bounces. This is just what is needed when life gets tough.

If your child gets a lower result on an assignment than was anticipated, explain that instead of losing hope and perspective, flexible thinkers say to themselves, “Not what I wanted, but I bet I can learn something from this and get up and go again”.

Be ready to brainstorm a problem with them so that they learn there is more than one way of doing something. Let’s say they are making a card for a friend’s birthday and you see them begin to ‘lock down’ for a perfect result. Talk them through their options. The focus could be on creating something ‘colourful and crazy’ rather than ‘perfect and neat.’

When perfectionist children learn not to blame themselves or others, it makes starting something a lot easier. Your child will need help to see that getting cross and full of regret for something they did or didn’t do, won’t help them. Instead, teach them to embrace a new thought pattern. Learning that ‘making a start is hard, but it gets easier along the way’ helps facilitate progress.

Perfectionists are often afraid to make a decision because they may regret it and wish they had done something better. Learning to live with our decisions and learn from the consequences is part of life. Nudge them towards making decisions over lots of little things so they get in the habit of living with their choices and dealing with small disappointments along the way.

The flipside of a perfectionist is that they are often very high achievers. They want to do well, and often have an outstanding ability to perform. They can stick at something relentlessly to improve themselves. These children often produce excellent results, and are successful without any need for motivation from parents. Some will be tidy, organised, gifted, disciplined, focused, deep thinkers and extraordinarily capable. Quite a few of them will have leadership qualities that mean they can organise, motivate and bring out the best in others.

The journey for them can be made simpler and kinder if we help them understand that perfectionists have both strengths and shortcomings, and help equip them with the skills and insights to live comfortably with themselves, their standards and their frailty.

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how to talk so kids will listen, and listen so kids will talk – by John Cowan

29 Nov

from Parenting Magazine www.theparentingplace.com

It’s one thing to talk to your children – it’s another to have a receptive audience. John Cowan gets some tips from the experts on being heard and learning to listen.

There are heaps of parenting books. Most have got some good ideas, but there are very few that you enjoy coming back to. Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish wrote such a book: “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen…And Listen So Kids Will Talk.”  I recently reread it, and was amazed at how much of what I had read a decade ago had ‘stuck’. So I realised much of what I believe and teach about parenting came from this book – some of the ideas are so ingrained I honestly thought I had made them up myself!

So here are a few tips on communication. I know they originally came from Faber and Mazlish, but I should warn you that these ideas are coloured and distorted from having spent 10 years fermenting in my brain.

Helping children deal with their feelings

A key concept of the book is based on Dr William Sear’s idea: “A child who feels right, acts right!” Behaviour is a symptom of something going on inside. All kids will occasionally throw up the odd bit of mischief, but if you are enduring persistent, unpleasant, uncooperative behaviour, that child is not feeling well. A child who feels ‘right’ doesn’t need to resort to whiney, aggressive ‘racket behaviour or passive-aggressive sabotage to get their needs met. So how do we help them feel right? One way is to accept their feelings, rather than trying to convince them that they are NOT feeling what they know very well that they ARE feeling.

“You can’t be tired!”

“It’s cold! Keep it on.”

“That didn’t hurt.”

“I’m not interested in your excuses.”

“You don’t look sick to me.”

The overall message we give is, ‘don’t trust your own perceptions – trust mine’. It leads to frustration and arguments. It certainly doesn’t make a child feel loved and accepted. A better response is empathy: feeling what they are feeling. And this is where Faber and Mazlish are brilliant: they don’t just tell you do something (“Be empathetic!”) , they walk you through the process, and use little cartoon examples to show right and wrong was to tackle the issues they raise. So they unpack empathy into three steps: Listen closely, acknowledge their feelings and give their feeling a name. Now, let’s unpack that unpacking:

Listening. We automatically hear the noises our children make but actually listen in a way that is really empathetic takes effort and skill.

 First, actually show that you are listening: lean in, make eye contact and have an appropriate expression. Remove distractions – your kids will never believe you are taking them seriously if you are clicking through channels or scanning a magazine (even a parenting magazine!) while they are talking to you. If they want to talk at an inconvenient time, rather than just saying, “Not now”, make an actual appointment: “I can’t stop at the moment, but I want to hear what you’ve got to say. I’ll come inside after the Fire Brigade have finished and you can tell me then.”

The real heart of empathy is acknowledging their feelings. Language is sometimes inadequate: sympathetic Oooohs and Mmmms are often far more eloquent ways to express that we feel what they’re feeling. Sometimes you might not need any words or sounds at all: closeness and empathy may be enough.

Our body language should say the same thing our words do: if we stand rigid and aloof, it sends a message that we don’t really care. It’s not that complicated, really! Feel the feeling and the body will follow.

Then, give the feeling a name :

“That sounds frustrating.”

“You must have been embarrassed”.

“How confusing.”

Repeat back to them what you understand them to be saying, but don’t be a parrot. Reflect the feelings, but don’t amplify them: “You must be really really REALLY mad!!!”

The aim is to let them know that you hear them, you empathise with their feelings, but you don’t necessarily have to agree with their perceptions of how things are. For example, you can sympathise with their feeling that things are unfair at home, but you don’t need to agree that things are actually unfair. And you don’t have to agree with their negative self labels (“So you’re really fat and ugly.”)

Of course, it is not just our children who have emotions – we have them as well, and sometimes our feelings will be upset when we hear our children express their emotions. What if they say they don’t like their Grandmother, or they hate their bike or they feel the teachers humiliate them? The instinctive reaction is to try to minimise or contradict or criticise their emotion. Wind back your own emotional response: all feelings can be accepted… but not all actions are permitted. They can be upset or angry – that’s permitted – but they cannot hit or damage things or use behaviour that is not permitted.

The book also gives techniques for getting cooperation. I particularly like the way that these methods train children to think and act without needing to be told. These may work in isolation, or you may use several of them in combination.

Describe the issue. Say what you see . It is so much better when they learn to see problems that need to be solved rather than just wait for commands to obey.

“The water is getting to the top of the bath.”

“I see the dog is waiting by the door.”

“There are dirty plates on the table.”

Give information. These might be the rules of your family or just facts about food, hygiene, safety etc. Again, it is encouraging children to think and motivate themselves to action rather just always waiting for orders.

“Apple cores go in the bin.”

“Milk goes sour when it’s left out.”

“Hands are for helping not hitting.”

“It would be helpful to put the plates on the table.”

Say it with a word. Some of us make the mistake of thinking that nagging really works; what it really does is train a child not to act until they have been asked multiple times. Use fewer words with more effectiveness.

“Pyjamas.”

“Your lunch.”

“The dog.”

Personally, I reckon your real goal should be to have the ability to give instructions by ‘eye-brow semaphore’: a flick of the eyes towards what needs to be done combined with an authoritative twitch of the eyebrow!

Talk about your feelings. It’s great when we learn about empathy, but our children need to be trained in it too. They especially need to know that their actions impact your feelings.

“I don’t like to be shoved.”

“Ants bother me.”

“I get frustrated when you talk over me.”

“I object to being spoken to roughly”

Write a note. For those of us who are addicted to nagging, maybe writing notes will help wean us off the habit. A Post It note stuck to their mirror will nag all day for you. In our home, we often use texts, even room to room. Children and teens seem to be unable to ignore texts, whereas they can tune out a parents voice very easily.

“Homework done?”

“Ssh… we’re having a snooze.”

“These need to be put away.”

“Chores.”

“How to Talk So Kids will Listen” is not a magic wand, but it is one of the few tools parents can get that comes close to it!

 

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