Mama Said: How to handle perfectionist kids
As someone who is quite satisfied with doing an “alright” job, Emily Martin is intrigued to find both her children are manic perfectionists
If I have something to do, I probably won’t do it until the very last minute. Yes I know my life would be much better and more calm if I spread things out and didn’t leave it all so that on the 30th of each month I have to work a 115 hour day. But that’s just moi.
Unless my deadline is TOMORROW, my brain will believe I have oceans of time stretching before me like… an ocean.
When I do eventually get round to completing a task, it’s always got that ragged, slightly rushed air about it. It’s alright. But it’s obvious to me and to others that it’s been chucked together at the very last moment. Whether it’s a piece of work, or folding up the laundry, the overall effect is the same.
So, it’s come as a surprise that both my children are absolutely obsessed with doing a good job.
Let’s start with the Girl. This week at school she took part in a school “Skipathon” where, as far as I can understand, they had to do an array of different “skips” which were then counted up, certificates to be awarded at the end of this week (Bronze, Silver or Gold). Also, as a side point, the whole thing was sponsored so it required me to “log in” and pay money. Everything seems to.
Anyway, I first learnt about it via a tearful discussion at bedtime. Her best friend can do 61 skips a minute, and she can do five. Which is apparently the second worst in the whole class. “Not the VERY worst though?” I offer encouragingly. “All I care about,” she says through the tears, “is winning a GOLD CERTIFICATE, Mum.” I looked at her and tried to recognise myself in her steely, determined eyes. This ambition. This burning drive to succeed at all costs. But no, I’m afraid the child staring back was not a 7-year-old me.
I once got a certificate for sport at school. Just once. It was for the Year 7 Swimming Gala. An appalling evening at Parkside Pool in Cambridge where we’d had to wear our swimsuits in front of all the boys and teachers, and it was kind of funny because in the assembly the following day, I was awarded a first-place certificate for a race I hadn’t been part of. Front crawl. Emily Martin. Winner! I had actually come last in the backstroke and swallowed a lot of water. So I was thrilled.
The Boy is into colouring. He loves to colour but it’s paramount (to him) that he stays within the lines or he gets extremely upset. And he’s 3, so if he were actually able to stay in the lines, our family would be on the local news.
He also likes to draw shapes. “I’m VERY good at drawing circles,” he says casually one day while we’re sitting together. Absentmindedly I’m reading my emails and thinking about something else. Probably how long I can push a deadline before it becomes an emergency. “You ARE good at circles,” I murmur in agreement and then for some reason I say, “Why don’t you draw a TRIANGLE?”
Why I would say this to my happy, contented, circle-drawing son, I don’t know. I’d read somewhere that triangles are notoriously hard for 3-year-olds to draw. Triangles are like EVEREST to a 3-year-old. It’s like asking them to do a Rubik’s Cube. They just can’t. His little hand stops drawing mid-circle and begins in a blank space to draw a line. Then he draws another line at a right angle to it.
“Oh my God,” I think. My child is drawing a triangle. Maybe we will be on the local news after all! He finishes the second line and goes to join them together with the third crucial stroke. Slowly he draws between them… a beautiful arch. “Oh NO!” he screams. “NOOooooO!” And swipes the paper and all the pens onto the floor as his face crumples into tears. “That was an EXCELLENT triangle!” I try. But we both know that wasn’t a triangle. At best it was a kite. At worst, a cone. Complete rubbish. Almost mummy-esque.
So now after school every evening she’s out there skipping, sweating in her pyjamas, trying to beat her score of 59 a minute (probably more by the time you read this). And he refuses to colour a picture unless you can guarantee he will stay in the lines. Which I can’t guarantee. And me? Oh the deadlines are piling up all over the place here, but I’ll bodge my way through it all somehow.
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