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What It’s Really Like to Have a Perfectionist Child

Photograph by Twenty20

My son is a perfectionist.

My husband and I joke that it must be a first-born thing. I get it. I’m not the first-born in my family, but I do have a bit of the Type-A streak in me. I like everything to be precise and right and true. Over the years I’ve learned to give myself grace in a lot of areas, but I still get that gnawing feeling in my chest and that twitch in my eye when things aren’t just right.

Well, my son has inherited this perfectionism and it drives us crazy. For one, he’s constantly correcting us:

“Actually, it’s five apple slices, not four.”

“Actually, we’re taking a bath, not a shower.”

“Actually, that’s dark blue, not purple.”

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It takes all I have in me not to snap, “Actually, just do as I say, boy!”

I try to be patient and understanding because I do believe in the importance of doing things the right way. I want him to pay attention to details and take great care in his work. I think it’s awesome that he takes his time in school and earns A’s.

But there are also tons of times when I want to tell him to lighten up.

It’s annoying being constantly corrected by a five-year-old and it’s painful to sit down and do homework with him. Even though my husband and I joke about it now, I'm starting to wonder if we should do something about it.

I've realized that he's putting a little too much pressure on himself, especially at school. My kindergartener was already stressed! This didn’t seem normal to me.

It was heartbreaking for me to hear his say those words. Didn’t he know how absolutely amazing he was?

The first time I noticed it was when I picked him up from school one day and he entered the car in near tears. His teacher walked up to the window and explained that he had to move his name from the green light to the yellow light because he kept talking to his neighbor. She was very kind and tried talking to my son, “Listen, it’s okay, it happens to everyone. I used to get in trouble all the time for talking in class. You can try again tomorrow.” This is when my son burst into tears and refused to even acknowledge his teacher because he was so ashamed.

When we got home I let him know that I absolutely did not care that he had been talking in class. It didn't matter. He was still upset.

Another day he brought home a B on one of his papers. His first B. He was devastated and as we talked about it, he said, “I just want to be perfect.”

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It was heartbreaking for me to hear his say those words. Didn’t he know how absolutely amazing he was? I let him know that nobody is perfect. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and that’s okay. That’s part of what makes the world so interesting and beautiful. We all work together to fill in different voids and keep society moving. No one person can do it all. We need each other.

The message is sinking in, slowly but surely. He still likes to correct us when we’re wrong. And he still likes to make sure his homework is done just so. But when he makes a mistake he now shrugs his shoulders and slowly says, “Well… that’s okay. I can do better next time.”

I'm sure he'll always struggle with being a perfectionist, but as his mom, I want to be there for him to let him know that perfect or not, I love him just the way he is.

Just as long as he stops correcting me.

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