Sunday, September 11, 2011



Perfection has been on my mind this week.

On Tuesday, when I picked Kylie up from school, she told me that she had worked a lot on a particular drawing but then she had made a mistake on it and thrown it away.

This bothered me. But I had a hard time wrapping my thoughts around why it bothered me. I think I said something like, "All your work means something to me, Kylie. I like to see how you are learning. I like to see all of your artwork even when you think there is a mistake." Kylie shrugged and I didn't blame her. It was a pretty wordy response.

That afternoon, we went to the park and Kylie played on these tires. If she fell off a tire, she would go back to the "beginning" and start over. Then she came to one tire that was a big leap for her. She just couldn't quite get it. Instead of moving on, she kept starting at the beginning. She would get to the same tire, fall off, and start at the beginning. Again and again. On one hand I thought, "Well, she is gaining confidence by walking across the tires she knows she can do and then is using that confidence to try this harder one".

She kept trying again and again and was getting so frustrated with herself. I suggested that when she fell off the one troublesome tire that she get back on the previous one and try for that one tire again. Just that one. I offered to help by giving her hand to balance.

She wasn't having it. She kept starting at the beginning, over and over.



"Strong-willed", I thought. "Determined."

But again there was something about it that bothered me. It was confirmed that after an hour of watching her play at only the tires, I told her it was time to go home.

Meltdown. Huge meltdown.

She only calmed down when I told her we could come back to the park tomorrow.

The next morning after breakfast and before school, she threw away three of her drawings. And as soon as I picked her up from school she said, "I want to go to the park. You said I could."

So we went back to the park and she walked right up to the tires again.


She kept trying again and again, each time starting over at the beginning. She was getting really frustrated. And it was making me anxious too. So I started telling her jokes, getting her to laugh at me and lured her away to another part of the playground. When she asked me, "When will I be able to do all the tires?" I told her "It just takes time and practice. You'll get it. And remember, the tires and the playground are here for you to have fun."

After pondering it all week, this is what I think. I think she might be experiencing "fish out of water" feelings with her first weeks at school. She has three new teachers and she has to make new friends because her two best friends moved away. I imagine she might feel bewildered and nervous. So when she sees something she can "master" she grabs it with all her might.

I think her "perfectionism" made me nervous because I can see myself in her. And I worry, "Have I done this to her somehow?" I don't think I have but I still worry about it. There have been times this week when I thought, "Wow. A "Tiger Mom" would love this. She's not going to quit until she does it perfectly." But then I think, "She can't do it perfectly. There is no "perfect"; it doesn't really exist."

I let it simmer in the back of my brain even more and finally hit bottom with this thought: I'm afraid that if she continues to drive herself this hard without taking time to acknowledge her progress or to take the time to see beauty in her work, that she will feel like a failure. I think it's far too easy to say to one's self, I've failed and to quickly make the jump to "I'm a failure."

Now, do I honestly think my four-year-old is going to make this leap of logic. Nope.

But I have been saying things like,
"Life is messy and full of mistakes. And life is awesome, sweetheart." and
"It's a process of experimenting and learning. You learned that magic marker colors run together (which she didn't want and threw her picture away) but that crayons don't run together."
"Your picture is very nice. Did you have fun coloring it?"
and so forth.

I also lightened up and let her throw away as many pictures as she wanted to. I stopped making any sort of fuss.

Sigh. It was one of those weeks where she taught me as much I taught her.


E and M, jumpingoutoftrees said...

Excellent post. Worry is a none stop job...

Kelly & Sam Pilgrim-Byrne said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. C is very much the same on the perfectionism scale and it also bothers me.

E. from Pot o' Gold said...

This post spoke to me, and I can see Teo doing the same thing. He has shown perfectionist tendencies. It gives me a very uneasy feeling...

Beth said...

Great post! We are going through the same issue and have been for as long as I can remember. Of course, when he's frustrated he likes to throw things which is a whole other issue... ugh. I think it's somewhat developmental and also has to do with the fact that usually our kids CAN do most things pretty easily. You are such an awesome mom (I've seen you in action)! :) Thanks for putting into words what can be difficult to articulate.