BubTar is a perfectionist. I'm sure in some situations the drive for perfection is an asset, but at age five, it is a hinderance of immense proportions. The drive to do things right is robbing him of experiences and enjoyment.
He cannot draw, because his pictures never turn out like the images in his mind. This leads to crumpled papers dampened with tears and a child sobbing into my shoulder.
He cannot play with blocks or other building materials, because he feels compelled to make things just like the diagrams and he can't follow the directions just yet. He does not allow himself the freedom to use his imagination to put them together in fun and creative ways. There is one correct way to build and if it cannot be accomplished all is lost. This leads to blocks dumped on the floor, with a small child sobbing in the midst of them.
He cannot practice writing his letters, because if he allows his pencil to leave the dotted lines, even for a split second, he has failed. "I can't DO it. It is RUINED." and he puts his head on the table and cries.
He cannot complete mazes, because one wrong turn is the end of the world. "But I already went the wrong way! It's ruined now! See? See the mark? I went the WRONG WAY!" He shoves the book away and cries, "I just CAN'T DO IT!"
But he can. He can do all of these things and more. He does them amazingly well for his age, he just can't do them to his own satisfaction. He needs to do it the right way, and there is only one right way that is acceptable to him.
In the beginning, I'd let him walk away. I'd say, "If it upsets you this much, you need to take a break from it. Go cool down." But that became his pattern. He would make a small mistake, explode from his huge failure, and then walk away. He became a quitter. As soon as he made a mistake, the tears and outrage came, followed by defeat. I allowed it to happen. I facilitated it even.
Now that he is home for the summer, I've noticed the pattern much more often. Almost everything he attempts is met with tears and frustration. I am trying to teach him to push through and that doing his best is all he can do, but it is a difficult lesson. Now instead of letting him walk away, I give him a good long hug and let him cry on my shoulder before asking him to calm himself and try again. I reinforce that it doesn't matter if it is perfect, it matters that he tries his best and completes what he is attempting. At the same time I wonder if this solution is any better.
As children grow, you begin to realize that the issues that you are dealing with at any particular moment are not isolated. The behaviors I encourage or redirect at this point in his life will stay with him. He is beginning to grow into himself and it is my job to help guide him in that. In this moment, all I want is a happy child who is able to play freely and creatively, who is not burdened by his own expectations of greatness. He is only five. I don't want to squelch his drive, but I want to teach him that things don't always come out perfectly and that is okay. We all do our best and that is what is important. Sometimes our imagined best and our actual best are not the same, but it doesn't mean we should stop trying to make it there. I want his perfectionism to challenge him to keep trying, not to upset him so much he stops trying altogether. I'd like for his perfectionism to lead him to perseverance, not make them two warring factions in which he has to choose a side.
Can anyone tell me why this passion for perfection does not transfer into the cleanliness of his bedroom? ;)