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Parenting the Gifted Perfectionist Children

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I have an 8 year old grandson, who although has never been tested, is a gifted child. He also is a perfectionist. Just yesterday he came home from school and had missed one spelling word out of 18 and he just lost it. It is either success or failure for him. He started to play piano at 5 and is very good but if he makes a mistake he wants to start the piece completely over. He breaks down more now than ever. He says he is sick of being called "little Einstein" and little Mozart by the kids at school and even some of their parents. When he does make a mistake at school some of the children are so happy about it and they let him know it.

He has a lot of kids that really like him though. My daughter has made an appointment with a psychologist for him because we are really worried about him emotionally. He also plays soccer, baseball, runs track, reads on a seventh grade level. He has never been pushed into these things but his parents, of course, are blamed for that. The other day as my daughter was in a cashier line and was holding her younger son, who is 15 months, was asked by a parent from the school, if she had him in piano yet?

My poor little Eric, the 8 year old is so sensitive and a wonderful little boy. Have you any suggestions for reading material for him and for the parents. Thank you.

A: Parents of a gifted child may encounter unexpected challenges at home and at school and this is certainly not uncommon. However, it is such a shame that sometimes even adults can be so cruel in passing sarcastic remarks; even though attempted at other adults, children get hurt in the process. This may be partly due to envy and the need to make the other party sense lesser "perfection" probably in an attempt to justify for self "imperfection".

Your grandson appears to be fitting in well, but I can understand your long term concerns and it is good to be aware of what can be done to help gifted children maximize their potential. Rather than reading materials, what he needs more than anything else at this stage is the emotional support from his surroundings. He needs to learn social skills and how to manage his feelings. The journey is going to be tough but if he goes on steadily, he would surely reap the benefits.

The parents need to find out if their son is feeling the pressure to excel at school, if his peers are teasing him for not being the "best" every time, if his teachers have high expectations of him. These questions need to be addressed as it leads to greater need for perfectionism. Very often, perfectionists measure their self-worth by their accomplishments, and not by their personal qualities. Every time he expresses disappointment in his accomplishments, he should be heard out and focus on his feelings rather than the task. Then, find solutions to make him feel better – survival skill, and this can be a skill for him to learn every time he feels disappointed. It is a good idea for parents to relate their experiences at this point and how the dealt with disappointments.

In fact as a grandparent, you can do your part as well (especially as you had written in, I believe you must be very involved in his growing up). Gifted children enjoy stories that are a little different from what they can easily access from books, and what more can be more exciting than your experiences when you were at school. This would help him perceive himself in the future, based on your successes and failures. In fact, you could even get him to suggest ways that things could have been better. As grandparents have gone through much of life, they are generally more lenient and relaxed in doing things. This is great for children to have a "playful grandparent".

Children would be very interested in stories about their parents, especially mistakes! It is something like realizing that perfect adults, in this case parents (as usually visualized by children) do make mistakes too! At the same time, you can also be a shoulder to cry on which they would surely need as they grow up. With your experiences of bringing up children, you are better able to handle crisis and perhaps look at things in a more matured and calm manner. You may also want to participate in your grandson's learning which may be new to you and get him to teach you. This would help build the bond and sense of belonging. Though, one must be careful not to overdo stories so as to bore them - your experiences must be meaningful to them and you will know if they are if he keeps coming back for more!

A few books to read:

The Gifted Kids Survival Guide, Ages 10 and Under
Author - Judy Galbraith, Pamela Espeland, and Albert Molnar
- Support and practical suggestions for gifted youngsters who are struggling with typical problems, such as school work, peer relationships, and community expectations.

Perfectionism: What's Bad About Being Too Good?
Author - Miriam Adderholdt-Elliott and Jan Goldberg

The Skills of Encouragement: Bringing Out the Best in Yourself & Others
Author: Don Dinkmeyer and Lewis Losoncy

Tales for the Perfect Child
Author - Florence Parry Heide and Victoria Chess
- Written for 9- to 12-year-olds, this book presents a funny look at what would happen if children were perfect.

Some of My Best Friends Are Books: Guiding Gifted Readers from Preschool to High School
Author - Judith Wynn Halsted
A guide to using bibliotherapy and an excellent annotated list of books to use with gifted students.

You can also get in touch with The Ohio Association for Gifted Children
that works with families and educators to promote the best interest of gifted children.

My best wishes to you and I hope you have a wonderful journey with your grandson.


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