Thursday, October 28, 2010

Kids and perfectionism, again.

I was talking with some other moms yesterday and mentioned that I think one thing we parents need to do is to let our kids see how we struggle. To kids it seems we know how to do everything -- and we seem to know how to it without difficulty. They might have to try 14 times to get it halfway right, but Mom and Dad just do it. Is it any wonder they get frustrated?

Around here, I sometimes forewarn my kids about how many tries it's likely to take before they start to feel competent at something. Will it take three times? 15? 50? We work hard on heading off frustration before it begins. That doesn't always work, but it does set expectations more appropriately, and that shortens the cycle.

If we want our children to be lifelong learners, and to develop persistence, we'd better have the humility to let our kids see that sometimes we have to work hard to figure things out, and we have to practice, and we have to pick ourselves up without a huge fuss when we stumble.

I say that, knowing it's harder than I think. Not just because of the humility piece, but because as adults so much of our thought process is invisible to kids. With this book I just finished my kids definitely saw me working hard; I was on the computer when they got up, and when they went to bed, and every spare second in between. I talked occasionally about what I was doing (Snuggler in particular was interested in how I made decisions, and the process of wordsmithing). But I don't think I ever mused aloud, "Now how am I going to do this?" when I hit a challenge I'd never faced before. And I hit quite a number of those kinds of situations. So from a kid's perspective, that challenge didn't exist. They never heard about it, so they didn't know where I struggled unless I said something like, "I need to take a break. This is too complicated right now!"

On the other hand, I did point out that the writers whose work I was editing (most of whom are professionals, and earn their living from writing) spent hours crafting -- and then polishing -- each piece before I ever saw it, and that here I was spending hours re-working some of that. The process of improving a piece of writing is a thing unto itself; what you end up with depends in large part on your willingness to think openly and critically about your work. Young kids have no clue about process unless we show them.
We are all better at working at some kinds of challenges than others. I tend to be good at it at my own writing, and because of that I stay away from working on writing with my kids. (They aren't going to appreciate my critical eye, I'm sure!) Snuggler is phenomenal at sticking with art projects.  Little Guy is terrific at working out problems with one of his inventions, but heaven help us if he doesn't get his math right away. And so on. It helps me to remember that they're not perfectionistic about everything. And it helps to remember that we adults don't persevere with everything, either. And I remind myself that if I want to teach my children to rebound from mistakes, my perseverance in working toward that goal has to be greater than their perfectionism.

1 comment:

  1. This is so timely for me. I've been thinking a tremendous amount about this lately, in relation to what I am teaching and modeling for my kids. I think I could have done a better job with my oldest on helping him learn about practice and failure and over and over until, success- and I want to do better now.