Perfectionism

A bright child is truly a gift from God, however, the characteristics of a gifted child are not always pleasant and one of the more unpleasant ones is perfectionism. This is the trait that forces your little Mike to correct everyone. This is the characteristic that may cause Mary to copy an assignment over and over until it is “right”. Another perfectionist may not try to write a creative story, saying “I don’t know what to write.” or simply “I can’t”.

Children who never attempt something for fear of failure are perfectionists, too. This is the essence of perfectionism — trying to get the world, or a piece of it, to conform to a picture of the “way it should be”.  A perfectionist individual will try to correct a problem whether it means writing a paper over one more time, correcting Mom’s memory of an event, or refusing to write a story if he is doomed to failure anyway. These look like very unpleasant characteristics.

However, perfectionism in a healthy adult who has learned to deal with the trait looks very different. This perfectionist is able to accept mistakes especially when he can learn from them, is able to be a good sport, is able to forgive and to be forgiven, and, most especially— is able to accomplish great things because of his (or her) persistence and desire to “get things right”.  Add a sense of fairplay and justice, and this person can accomplish wonderful things. The trick for parents is to train the child to that point, so let us go back to the more unpleasant aspects of perfectionism.

What about the child who constantly corrects others? While most adults know that you don’t win friends by correcting them, a child will have to be taught this. Parents should analyze the cause. Does the child simply want to set the record straight, or is he deliberately trying to be obnoxious? Although it can seem like the latter, the gifted child is not doing this for fun, or because of a heart attitude, but because he feels that he must. At times this sense of rightness is so strong that the child may take years to learn the simple concept of dealing with people, and may have social problems because of it. The child has a sense of rightness, not a sense of self-righteousness.  Perfectionism is normal for a gifted child.  Perfectionism, with training and tempering, can become a great characteristic in an adult.

What about arguing to prove a point? This problem also starts in perfectionism, as it is normal for the child who corrects people constantly to also be an arguer. A mom may find herself arguing with a five-year-old over something unbelievably inconsequential. As before, this may take a long time to deal with, but the rewards are great. I suggest two things: first, determine the true cause, and then secondly, work out a method, or a ritual, for getting the child to stop and think about his actions.  One ritual might be to silently, hold up a hand, palm outward, in the universal “stop” sign. After you teach him that this means to be silent, you can then shoo him on to another topic or action.   (All done silently). The ritual also helps the mom to distance herself from the argument.

What about dealing with a mistake? Two characteristics of all people, including gifted children, are the fears of making a mistake and admitting a mistake. For a perfectionist to say, “I am sorry”, he must admit having made a mistake, a difficult thing. We have all met adults with whom relationships are difficult because of this attitude problem. So, the gifted child must learn how to make mistakes, that all humans do, and that he must go on with the job. For a child, this means learning to accept not-quite perfect papers, but for an adult, it means being able to apologize, being able to forgive himself, and being able to accept forgiveness from others, even God.  This, too, can be trained.

What about refusing to do an assignment? This young perfectionist has a totally different problem: being willing to give up in the face of non-perfection. This child needs understanding and to be taught how to do a reasonably good job, not perfect but good. An assignment broken into many smaller parts is easier to contemplate. He may need help organizing himself, his work, or his time. He may need someone to take a dictated story.  Many very young gifted children can imagine a great story, but cannot write well enough or fast enough to get it on paper. Give these children a little help because they need to be trained not to give up and that is more important than one paper.   This training must be done one step at a time.

On the other hand, what about the parents?   Is Mom or Dad a perfectionist?  Does she make the children do every math problem on every page until perfect?  Does she make the children rewrite everything?   Does Dad expect perfect work, chores done without reminders, and the food on the table at 5:30 sharp?   If so, lighten up!  It is time to expect a good job, not perfection.  It is time to allow mistakes— time to teach forgiveness.   After all, we are all very human.  You really can skip a chapter or some problems.   You should move on if your child understands the material, especially if he has already mastered it.

Perfectionism is a common characteristic of gifted people, but living with it can be very frustrating. Train your children to accept failures, learn from mistakes, to be good sports, and how to tackle difficult assignments. Above all, teach them to accept their own humanity and others’ imperfections, and to ask for and accept forgiveness.

Leave a comment about your strategies for working with your perfectionist child!

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Removing the Barriers for Your Child: Homeschooling your Highly Gifted Children

By Kathleen Julicher

The morning was cool in the schoolroom as the children arrived after having completed their chores, piano practice, and breakfast. They started immediately in on their work knowing that today, if all were done, they would be going to the air museum after lunch. The two 9th graders were doing some dissections and then a Latin translation of Caesar. The seventh grader worked on Algebra II at the board while the 5th grader finished an internet research topic about whales. Later in the morning, they would gather for a reading of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. During breaks they talked about the upcoming trip. These are highly gifted children at work. They are homeschoolers.

Homeschooling is a trustworthy way to school gifted children because it meets their varied needs so well; be they academic, social, or emotional. Once merely an ancient method of education, today, in the United States as in other nations, the families of gifted children are rediscovering the merits of homeschooling. The highly or profoundly gifted child is so different from the norm that the individualized nature of homeschooling meets the challenge exceedingly well.1  Let’s look at some of the ways in which homeschooling can help meet the educational needs of an exceedingly gifted child.

Asynchrony causes barriers for a highly or profoundly gifted child. 2  Intellectual asynchronies usually revolve about three axes: when the learning rate is very much faster than the average, when the learning rates change with respect to time, and when the learning rates are different from subject to subject. For a profoundly gifted child, these asynchronies are magnified and the result of not adjusting to handle them very much worse. Each one of these asynchronies has its own solution, but each is also very much more easily remedied in homeschool. Acceleration is a good example of one possible remedy.

Homeschooling separates the issues attendant with subject matter acceleration from those with grade level acceleration. One of the key problems with acceleration is the fact that in a regular school, acceleration of any significant degree usually involves a complete grade level skip of one or more years. In this situation, grade level skips by their nature require consideration of the social ramifications of the skip. Because of this, many educators resist acceleration, especially accelerations of two or more years. They understand that the skip would not occur in a vacuum and that the broader, social aspect of school must be considered. So, for many very bright children acceleration is discarded as an option very early in the decision making process.

Homeschooling provides a new decision-making pathway for the child who needs to be accelerated because of his advanced intellectual development. While homeschooling, the decision is made based solely upon the child’s academic needs and interests because radical subject matter acceleration need not require a grade level skip. For example, meet Asynchronous Sally, seven, ready for beginning algebra, reads at post high school level, spells terribly, cannot write in cursive, and is definitely a seven year old in behavior. At home, she can be given a program which allows her to take Algebra, research the history of her family, learn the rules of spelling in English (difficult at best), learn cursive and Greek, and be in Brownie Girl Scouts with her seven year old friends.

However, the real problem is not the subject matter skipping, or even grade skipping, but is a much more difficult problem – faster learning rate combined with a deeper way of thinking. Because of these attributes, highly gifted and especially, profoundly gifted children, do not usually need only a grade skip. Their intelligence requires that they move through the material at a much faster rate. This can actually work at odds with a grade skip since once a grade skip has been the made the child merely is faced with slightly more advanced material being taught at the old rate. Understanding the large rate differential between a highly gifted child and a normal, or even moderately gifted child is one of the important keys to successful acceleration. This understanding is even more critical for a profoundly gifted student. Sally, who is already advanced in arithmetic, is capable of finishing a math text in about half the time as a regular student. Because homeschooling allows a disconnect between grade level and subject matter, she can drastically reduce her time spent on a topic with no detrimental effects on her social life (or on spelling). What this means in practical terms, is that she can skip most of the activities in a math text, merely reading the material and going on, with or without the formality of testing. Another way to allow for increased rates of learning is to switch away from spiral method style texts.

The most widespread tool of modern educational systems (besides the age / grade connection, of course) is the spiral method. In this method, the student proceeds through a topic over the course of several years, usually six. The difficulty of the topic increases incrementally every year until after all six years are through, the student has learned the material. If you will imagine a Slinky™ suspended from the ceiling and mentally trace the coil up from the floor, you will see that the same location in the room is traversed over and over again, each time a little higher than the coil below. The spiral method of learning is like the Slinky™ rising toward the ceiling, covering the same topics year after year, in slowly increasing detail. This method is most obviously seen in reading, mathematics, grammar and composition. After all, it makes sense to do things systematically and progressively. Unfortunately for the highly gifted student, learning may not proceed best in this way. The asynchronous, highly gifted child grows intellectually at different rates at different times in her life. In this case, the best way to proceed with learning is not progressively, but prescriptively. As the learner is able to comprehend, she should be allowed to learn. This “at your own rate” of learning is the optimum way to become educated for the highly or profoundly gifted learner and is easy to use in homeschool. The way to implement prescriptive learning is to teach the student what she does not know, that is, use diagnostic testing to determine what is not already known, skipping what is known.

Prescriptive learning is easy to do as long as you have some way of separating what is known from what is not. Several tools are: pretests, chapter reviews (although this is not optimum as the reviews can be long and tedious), chapter tests, oral quizzing, and casual dialoguing on the topic with the student. Four non-spiral math programs are Mastering Mathematics, Arithmetic the Easy Way, Ray’s Arithmetics, and the individualized math programs used by some online courses.  At the higher levels of algebra and beyond, the student may find it best to use the chapter reviews as diagnostic pretests.

The use of diagnostic testing is only one method of compacting a course. Another excellent method is by means of leaving out redundancies. At the high school level, a good example is the first few chapters of the Algebra II text. As the regular student has not done any algebra for two years, having taken Plane Geometry in the interim, it is generally necessary to review the basic concepts of algebraic method. If a gifted student remembered the methods, as shown by pretesting, four or five chapters might be effectively eliminated. One of the most difficult things for a person to do is to skip parts of a text, and it is especially difficult for a perfectionist. The student and parent should remember that it is not necessary to do all the problems, all the chapters, and make perfect scores to have understanding of the concepts.

Another asynchrony observed in highly gifted students is that of changing optimum rates of learning. It is very common for the highly gifted to go through stages of rapid learning interspersed with stages of slower learning, just as he will go through growth spurts in his physical maturation. In a regular schooling situation, this is difficult to allow for, but in the homeschool, the course can be discontinued and started again a few months later when the student is more amenable to learning the topic. A brief slowdown in learning can be related to stress, illness, vision problems, a growth spurt, or simply a mental plateau. Four year old Mark was happily doing advanced arithmetic until he hit double digit multiplication at which point he refused to go any farther. Four months later, he suddenly understood not only double-digit multiplication but also division, decimals, and density, an understanding that allowed him to go ahead two years worth of arithmetic.

The young 6 year old sat patiently, sucking his thumb, waiting for the psychologist to finish describing giftedness. When the doctor was done, the little boy turned to his mother and said, “I guess that means I’m OK after all, mommy.” In a traditional classroom, this profoundly gifted child not only learned that was he different but assumed that there was something wrong with him. In a normal conversation with would be homeschoolers, the question of socialization will come up. I have always found this interesting since the type of socialization in question usually relates to conforming to group expectations, not individual social development. Socialization and conformity to group norms is not the same thing as social development. Social development relates to the maturation of an individual within himself and in relationships with other persons. Conformity is not the goal; maturity and secure self-identity is. One of the most important concepts of Western Civilization is the idea of the value of an individual, and this foundational idea is important to homeschoolers who very deliberately have chosen to not be a part of an age/peer group. Because the identity of the young person does not revolve around an age/peer group, he is allowed to mature uniquely and independently: social development. In the case of the profoundly gifted six year old above, he had not developed a good self concept and still struggled with conforming to the group of his age mates. Learning at home helped this young man. On a practical level, a homeschooled student mingles and works with persons of all ages and types, not only age peers. This results in a student who accepts diversity, is able to be independent of age/peer group choices, and is able to relate to persons of different ages. A substantial amount of research on this topic is developing. For the reader who is interested, see the notes at the end of this article.3

Resolving the issue of the purpose of giftedness is important to a family with a gifted child. For many, the primary aspects of the gifted that seem to be of concern are the future possibilities and worth of the child to the nation. Thus, the children are helped because of what they might invent or create later on. While such a show of public spirit is commendable, it also misses an important point. Whatever the future value to the state the highly gifted child has, it pales beside the value of the child in himself (remember the foundation of Western Civilization?). He has a right to adjustments in his education simply because he exists and no other reason is necessary. We do not give the gifted an appropriate education because of their future usefulness, but because they need it. In fact, there are many highly and profoundly gifted children who are leaving regular schools because their fundamental needs as individuals are not being met (a very difficult job in a regular classroom, by the way).

Some families choose to homeschool after leaving an untenable situation.  Others feel that they can provide some missing element of school which the schools can not. One reason for a bad situation is the much lower likelihood of a highly gifted child fitting into the classroom. Many parents of highly gifted children have found that not only do their children not fit well into a classroom, but that they might actually be in jeopardy in that situation. Leaving a bad situation can mean several things but the foremost is that the student may desperately need some downtime. We call this the detox period of homeschooling. During the detox period, the student must adapt to the lower level of conflict, pressure, and need to conform. A student in detox should be expected to do chores, help with family projects, and keep reading, researching, or simply investigating interesting topics. She may lose her temper occasionally, or be frustratingly indecisive with respect to choosing topics to study. On the other hand, she may jump at the opportunity to do her own projects. The child react to beginning homeschooling in very individualized ways, but they all usually need a detox period of some length.

Parent’s issues concerning homeschooling can be a problem for new homeschoolers. One important question is: Who is responsible? There is much debate on this topic, but a balanced view is that as the children get more mature they should accept more of the responsibility for their own education. This includes decision-making.

Some parents feel that their role as a parent will be confused with the role as teacher. This does not usually have too much significance if the children are learning to be fairly independent in their schooling and if the teaching parent is also a learner in attitude.  Many parents are perfectionists. This can be a problem when it is time for a skip or a session of compacting. Perfectionist parents tend to resist skipping materials, activities, or grades. They also tend to be conservative in schooling technique. This is not bad, merely a uniqueness typical of gifted people (even parents). A problem with perfectionism is that it can keep the student at an artificially low rate of learning. In fact, this can happen when the student is a perfectionist, too. Some children simply refuse to move on without filling in every blank in the workbook or doing every problem in the text. Perfectionism should be allowed to mature and not be a handicap to learning. A last question which parents commonly ask is: How much and how far? The answer is: as fast and as far as he/she wants and can go, uninhibited by rules, perfectionisms, age groups, and preconceptions of learning.

“Tech kids” are another population of highly or profoundly gifted. These are the children who must take things apart, who must know how something works, and who must create his/her own environment. They are different from other gifted children and very little research has been done on their issues. These future engineers or technical people have, in the past, been relegated to the lower levels of academia until they hit college. At homeschool, you can meet the unique needs of these children by providing hands on activities in a relatively unstructured environment. They should be allowed to ask questions, receive answers, investigate solutions to problems, construct crazy machines, take apart things, design problem solving devices, and talk to experts in their own areas of interest, from mechanics to college professors. These children will need time to do these ‘non-academic’ things, time to dream.

Homeschooling can solve a number of problems connected with educating young highly and profoundly gifted children. These problems center on the asynchronies of the children, both emotional and intellectual, their sensitivities, and their interests. Take the advantage of homeschooling and begin your own journey into totally individualized learning.

Resources & References:
1. Hogan, Julicher, and Baker, Gifted Children at Home: A Practical Guide for Homeschooling Families, The Gifted Group. www.castleheightspress.com
2. Webb, et al. Guiding the Gifted Child, Gifted Psychology Press, 1982.
4. Ray, Brian, Many articles available at National Home Education Research Center: www.nheri.org

Gifted Grown-ups:
Excellence in Educating Gifted & Talented Learners
Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom
The Well-Trained Mind
Christian Home Educators Curriculum Manual by Cathy Duffy
Critical Thinking Press
Gifted Homeschoolers

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