Perfectionism


keep-calm

My only child is a perfectionist. Now that I have identified the reason for Joshua’s stress at school, it is time to learn about it and help him deal with it. I know I am not the only one who has experienced this and I also know this will apply to a lot of first born children too. I know because I am a first born child. I learned to moderate my perfectionist tendencies when I was in my twenties long before I had Joshua, but alas, it is in his genes.

Today was the orientation for middle school. He will be in 5th grade next year and was initially all excited because of the new things they will experience (iced tea at lunch and study hall before going home every day). Now that he has experienced a day-in-the-life, he is worried about the stress of it all. I anticipated his concern and stopped the head of the middle school after his presentation to ask for some pointers so I would know how to begin to prepare Joshua and also so I would know how to pray for him. He acknowledged the school tends to turn out overachievers because it is run by overachievers. LOL At any rate, he understands my dilemma and I think he will be a good resource for the future. He had 2 thoughts to get me started.

First, is to point out the differentiation between perfectionism and excellence. So what is the difference? Perfectionism is to be without fault or error. The only perfect person is God, so to try to be perfect is to set yourself up for failure…and nobody likes to fail (ESPECIALLY not a perfectionist!). Excellence means outstanding or extremely good. Excellence is something to strive for…it is continuous improvement. Doing your best and then raising the bar a little to be better next time.

Second, he used the analogy of someone hanging from a bar. A perfectionist is constantly holding on with both hands in a death grip. Afraid to let go…”I mean, what will happen if I let go?” He said it is ok to let go with one hand every once in a while. You will still be able to hang while holding on with one hand. You won’t drop to your death. And then if you decide you want to grab the bar with both hands at a later date, you can do that. After all, your other hand is right there.

These are definitely some good thoughts. I am sure I will have many conversations with him (and the school counselor) as we navigate middle school for the first time next year. On a side note, I am so thankful that Joshua has a great group of friends who know how to have fun and are supportive of each other. I know that is one of the struggles middle school children experience. I will continue to pray for his friends for this reason…they are an important part of his life.

Another school year and yet again I struggled with helping my only child adapt to going back to school. I try not to label, but let’s face the facts…he doesn’t do well with change. It isn’t just that he would rather be home with me (while that is the case). He just freaks out inside when he isn’t familiar with a new situation. Daddy does too, so he is in good company.

Every year, I try to talk myself out of speaking with the school counselor and I usually succeed, but this year was THE year…4th grade at Trinity Christian Academy. The year they get binders and learn responsibility and manage massive amounts of work. Add to that the fact that his teacher last year was as laid back as possible, and this year his teacher has very high expectations and you have a recipe for disaster.

In any case, when the tears started early on and restarted after I thought he had made progress, I broke down. I went in to let his teacher know what he was feeling. I learned a couple years ago not to worry about being “that mom”. You know the one that is always in there telling the teacher what to do and checking on their child to make sure they are ok. I am my child’s best advocate and if I don’t tell the teacher what he is thinking and feeling, she isn’t going to know. It’s a good thing I told her because she had no idea. He is apparently very good at putting on the appearance of being fine.

God bless her, Mrs. Miller is a gem. High expectations, yes. But she also clearly cares deeply for the children in her care and wants to know what is going on with them. She encouraged me to let her know when there are tears at home and I did. She suggested I wait for the first parent teacher conference before talking to the counselor.

I couldn’t resist, I stopped in to see the counselor to get her perspective on whether or not I should make an appointment. She told me the same thing…wait for conferences. Her experience is that 90% of students adapt in the first quarter without intervention. Then in 5 minutes she proceeded to make the most astute and obvious observation…he is stressed because he doesn’t KNOW Mrs. Miller. He doesn’t really understand her expectations and is afraid he is going to disappoint her. So I started encouraging Joshua to get to know her. To not stress when he didn’t know what she would do next and just rest in knowing she is super-pleased with him. When she admonishes the class to “get a move on”, she isn’t talking to him…just the ones who are daydreaming.

Fast-forward to parent conferences. He was one of the only ones to get all A’s and all “+” behavior grades in the class. Mrs. Miller couldn’t be happier…but Joshua was still stressed. He still didn’t want to go to school, so my husband and I made an appointment with the counselor. She listened to us and said she would talk to him in the coming weeks. She checked in with him a couple times, but finally I sat down and did some serious research online. What I found was so obvious, it was almost dumb. I already knew he wasn’t stressed about the work, he is stressed about disappointing his teacher. While it was not likely he WOULD disappoint her, I had to help him understand how to deal with his stress. The obvious discovery was that I have a little perfectionist on my hands. I was one when I was younger, so I guess it is in his genes. Now that I had a definitive reason for the stress, I could start to address the issue.