Perfectionism and Learning

Parent’s question

When one of my sons was in the first grade, his test scores were very good. He was in the top group, but he couldn’t or wouldn’t do any paperwork.

Things got so bad my son became sick to his stomach and had bad headaches at school. After many tests, we found his problem. He is a perfectionist. He was afraid to try anything even though he was very bright. His teacher and I were advised to brag on him even if he did no more than sign his name. It worked. He started doing excellent work and enjoying school. I just wanted to explain how perfectionism can stop children from trying to do schoolwork.

Our answer

Perfectionism can paralyze students, so that they are afraid to do work because it might not meet their high standards. If children are not completing their work, perfectionism is only one of the many possibilities. Answer the following questions about your child to find out if perfectionism could be a problem:

  • Is your child constantly erasing or re-erasing work?
  • Does your child get frustrated when plans are changed?
  • Is your child always unhappy with grades even if they are excellent?
  • Does your child concentrate on errors rather than correct answers?
  • Is your child very slow and meticulous with handwriting?
  • Is your child unable to enjoy his or her accomplishments?

Having high standards is definitely not a bad thing. However, if you answer "yes" to any of these questions, there is always the possibility that your child is a perfectionist or has the propensity to become one. We are surprised that just simple praise turned your child around. Many perfectionists react negatively to praise – not thinking they deserve it.

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