My son is almost six, and he is so so so hard on himself and I don't really know how to deal with it. He's a serious perfectionist, and often will crumple/tear up his work if he's not happy about it - he'll be doing a drawing, decide it doesn't look good, and rip it in half, or colour outside the lines and crumple it into a ball. He frequently then regrets ruining his stuff and then cries. He was doing an after-school art class, got upset about something, and cut his canvas into a dozen pieces with scissors. He also sometimes says things like "I'm stupid, I hate myself" and "I don't belong in this family". This morning he said "I wish I wasn't alive."
I don't know how much of this is attention-seeking and he just wants us to hug him and tell him he's great and we love him, how much of this is frustration about being younger and always feeling like he's behind his brother (he also gets really upset about still wearing pull-ups when "nobody else in the family does"), and how much of it is a serious issue. I've tried to talk to him about "do you really feel like this, or are you just feeling sad and you need a hug?" and he doesn't seem really sure.
Advice? Commiseration? Most of the time he's a happy noisy little maniac but this makes me feel so bad for him and I worry about it a lot.
grapefruit / 4043 posts
I'm so very sorry to hear about your son. I have an almost 6 year old in kindergarten. She cries a lot throughout the day over any and all things. It's the negative self-talk that would really concern me, as well as the diaper. Does he wear the diaper at school? Are there any big changes going on? Has his teacher said anything? I would probably talk to your son's school (schools often have good suggestions and resources) as well as his pediatrician. I wouldn't let this go. I'm so so sorry you have to worry about this.
apricot / 399 posts
My kids are not like this, but I was. I very distinctly remember just absolutely losing my mind over a class assignment in first or second grade that I could not execute the way I wanted to, and feeling really overwhelmed that my parents seemed so overwhelmed and shocked by me. Like it was clear to me that they had no idea what to do. Of course, I can completely relate to this feeling as a parent, but what I would encourage you to do is stay as calm as you can, make it clear that you have the situation under control, and then just use soothing words - "you got this, it's ok for you to have big feelings about this, but your work is great the way it is, you should be proud of it," etc.
There is this Peloton ride (I know, I know, but stick with me) where the instructor says "You cannot hate yourself into change, you can only love yourself into greatness." It's one of my favorite reminders to myself, and a friend just told me that she says it to her kids all of the time, and they have started repeating it back to her. Might be worth a shot!
apricot / 399 posts
@agold: I would not worry about the pull ups.My almost-nine year old wore pull ups at night through first grade, and is fine. She even went to some sleepovers with her pull ups and it was a non-issue.
eggplant / 11716 posts
@erinbaderin: my second kiddo is like this, especially with art work. She just FREAKS OUT if her work isn't as good as her older-by-two-years sister. But my 2nd daughter has some sensory/emotional regulation issues in general. I'm actually trying to get her into some OT. It's been difficult because my husband and I are literally the only people who see this side of her--she is apparently angelic at school/classes/camps--never tantrums, never melts down. At home, it's tantrum and meltdown city and it's always been that way. So her school keeps telling me for her to even qualify to be referred to the child study team for an eval, she'd have to have issues that disrupt her learning in some way, and by their standards, she's above average in every category (academic and behavior).
But at home, she's the exact definition of a sensory avoider/sensory seeker; poor emotional regulation type. My husband keeps saying she'll "grow out of it". but clearly she isn't, so I think some kind of OT (or something?--open to suggestion) would be great for her to learn emotional regulation skills.
nectarine / 2458 posts
I wouldn't have said my kids are perfectionists, but I was as a kid and when I heard Dr. Becky talk about perfectionism on her podcast I felt like it was such an amazing approach.
She's got a short segment here: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CNJEA3UHNtr/?hl=en
and a deep dive here:
That being said, my 7 year old has absolutely done a lot of the negative self-talk behaviors you mentioned. He'll say he's not good and he doesn't belong in the family. And it always seems to be at a time when he's gotten in trouble a lot and has had a hard time regulating his behavior. Like if there was a week where he was constantly pestering baby brother and DH and I were constantly scolding him about it, this might come out. But since we've become more aware of that pattern and tried checking in with some messages of "I love you" and "you're not a bad kid, just a good kid having a hard time" it's really dialed back on the extreme negative self-talk.
grapefruit / 4043 posts
@hitchhiker: Oh, I missed the part that the pull ups are just at night time. My 5 year old is still in night time pull ups. She sleeps so long and heavy during the night. The doctor also told me this is something that is not to worry about at this time. And please tell me which peloton ride that was!
apricot / 399 posts
@agold: It's Emma Lovewell's 5 min warm up that has the Lion King song.
pear / 1580 posts
@JennyPenny: I came here to say the same thing! Dr. Becky on Instagram has a lot of great resources for helping our perfectionist kids, and her solutions are different from what comes naturally for most. Dr. Becky 4ever!!
pomelo / 5563 posts
Thank you all! Even hearing that other people’s kids are like this helps!
@agold: Yes, the pull-ups are just at night, he just feels embarrassed about them - he tries to pull his jammies up to hide them because he says he doesn’t want anybody to laugh at him even though, clearly, it’s just the family there.
@JennyPenny: I watched the first video you linked to and it really resonates, I am definitely going to work on that perfect voice idea with him! Time for a Dr Becky deep dive! I’m also going to pay attention to whether it seems to come when he’s getting in trouble more - he does often have more trouble self-regulating his behaviour and sometimes I do feel like it’s a parade of “don’t sit on the dog why did you throw that at your brother that doesn’t belong to you don’t rip it up I SAID don’t sit on the dog!” which I’m trying to work on.
cantaloupe / 6085 posts
My son is a year older and he does all this. I’m going to read all the resources people have posted but wanted to say I’m with you!
I think the self talk has gotten a little better over the past year so maturing may be helpful along with other strategies. Also one little thing is we have a routine every day where I tell him I love him every day no matter what and I sing him part of Bruno Mars’ you’re amazing just the way you are song (modified a bit). Sounds silly but it really seems to comfort him. He has some trouble regulating himself behaviorally and some middle child feelings and I think it’s been helpful to reiterate daily. We’re also really working on how to be resilient when you mess something up like a math problem - how to regroup and try again.
I’m glad to see these things are common and looking forward to reading the resources above!
persimmon / 1483 posts
@JennyPenny: Thanks for sharing the podcast and Instagram video! My DS(8) is like this somewhat. Particularly with writing, which he struggles with, but giving up with other activities too. One thing we talk about is how things can be valuable and worthwhile even if they aren't perfect. For his writing, we'll emphasize that the important thing is that his ideas and the story are great. That having imperfect spelling or handwriting doesn't take away from the ideas. So it's not just about tolerating when things aren't perfect, but also appreciating the parts of things that are great.
grapefruit / 4043 posts
@erinbaderin: My kindergartner also wears a night time diaper. I tell her it is because she is the best sleeper in the house and since she sleeps so well, her body doesn't wake her up to go potty. My 3 year old doesn't need a night time diaper at all, but I still keep her in one specifically because I don't want my 5 year old to feel too bad about it. (Just as a side note - I'm having my 5yo seen by a neurologist because of throat clearing issues, and now she is being looked at for low iron which is believed to cause such things as growing pains/restless legs, bed wetting at night, tics when tired, etc.) This is my 5 yo that cries all the time over so many things at home, but I also hear she is great at school. Im constantly telling her how smart and perfect she is.
pear / 1767 posts
My 9 year old will say things like that on occasion. In our case, we used to see it with artwork but now happens more when he doesn’t get a good grade on school work / tests. I usually tell him that perfect is boring and ask him please to not speak that way about someone I love. I also remind him that I needed my parents to help me study when I was his age and that we will work together until he feels good about whatever the lesson is. I’m not sure I’m navigating this correctly as we’re still seeing it at age 9 but I do think it is less frequent now. I really make a conscious effort to not tell him he’s perfect or encourage perfectionism in any way. Imperfection is what makes life interesting.
nectarine / 2010 posts
My DD can definitely have perfectionist tendencies. Sometimes worse than others. Last year her art teacher read the book “ish” by Peter Reynolds, which really resonated with my DD. We bought a copy and try to look through it occasionally.
Also we try to say practice makes progress or practice makes for improvement. At one point DD heard practice makes perfect and she would break down that she was practicing but things weren’t perfect. So changing her outlook on what practice actually does has been helpful.
I also love Dr. Becky!
I don’t know what resources are available at your school but if there is a counselor I would reach out to see if they have any tips. Our counselors do a weekly session with every class but they also do one on one with kids or small break out groups to help with a ton of things. They have been amazing resources the pst two years.
bananas / 9227 posts
Try doing speed exercises with him that focuses on accomplishing a specific task in a limited time. Make it a game that's played with others. Pictionary or charades are examples. Games like these help get over the need for perfection in order to accomplish the task quickly. The hope is it will eventually carry over to other non-time sensitive tasks.