FeMOMhist has had a couple of really interesting posts about recent testing that has revealed just what a rare zebra her son is. (She had an earlier post where she made the analogy of having a gifted child to be like having a zebra in a world that expects horses.)
This, in conjunction with some recent events, has got me thinking. It is too early for me to know whether Pumpkin is a zebra or just a rather speedy horse, and it is way to early to know how Petunia will develop. (For what its worth, I myself was probably a fast horse growing up, although I did get "tracked" into the gifted program and that was awesome. My husband was probably a zebra.) So, the musings in this post are not really directly about my kids. They are more general musings that may or may not apply to my kids. Time will tell.
Anyway, one problem that a lot of gifted kids have is perfectionism. The theory is that they are so used to having things come easily that they are afraid to try to do something that they can't be perfect at- or something like that. I am not as up on all of this as I probably should be, with kindergarten barreling down on us and all.
To me, the fact that school often fails to give gifted kids the opportunity to overcome this perfectionism in a safe environment is one of the most troubling things about the thought of trying to navigate a gifted child through standard schooling. I've watched far too many unreformed perfectionists flame out in college or graduate school to take this lightly. In all cases, the person was clearly gifted, but at some point ran into a class or an experiment or something that was too challenging, and just couldn't handle it. None of the cases I am aware of turned out tragically- everyone is living a reasonably happy life, if not necessarily fulfilling the potential that people- and they themselves- saw in their younger selves. But my god, they went through hell for years getting to that point. I wouldn't wish that on anyone, and I certainly don't wish it on my children. I am convinced that it is far better to figure out how to handle challenges and failure young, when most people figure that out.
So it scares me a bit to see Pumpkin suffering a bit from perfectionism. We have been working on this with her, and I think we have made progress. As I point out above, for all I know, school will provide sufficient challenges for her, and give her the chance to learn how to get her perfectionist streak under control.
But still. This is an area of parenting I think about quite a bit.
I've been pondering how my husband and I escaped the perfectionist trap. My husband still has a bit of a perfectionist streak in him, but he (mostly) uses it to ensure he produces high quality work, and is not paralyzed by it. I, on the other hand, am definitely not a perfectionist. I take pride in my work, and I try to do a good job. But I am for some reason rather good at letting things go, even when they are not perfect.
Now, obviously, basic temperament plays a big role here. But I am starting to form a theory about another factor that might be involved. Both my husband and I were fairly active in extra-curricular activities, right through college and beyond, keeping with them even though we weren't anywhere near the top of the field. For him, it was sports- even though he does not have the build that makes him a natural at most sports. For me, it was music. I can't speak for my husband, but I know that one of the things I had to consciously work on and overcome with my music was the tendency to want to stop and go back and fix a mistake. This is obviously not "allowed" in music- you just keep going. I clearly remember struggling with that, and even once I'd gotten to the point where I'd keep playing, I had teachers tell me that I needed to work on my "poker face"- i.e., I shouldn't wrinkle up my nose and shake my head when I hit a wrong note. I never completely conquered that tendency, but I got a lot better. Apparently my "tell" in later years was that I'd raise my eyebrows when I hit a wrong note.
I have long credited this experience with my relative comfort with public speaking. If you make a mistake when you are talking, you just correct yourself. This is so much easier than having to just keep going without even acknowledging the mistake- my God, people might think you don't even know you did something wrong! But now I think the impact was perhaps more profound than I realized. Could this be why I'm comfortable taking risks and making mistakes at work now?
This train of thought has changed the way I look at the non-academic pursuits we've signed Pumpkin up to take. I used to think of swimming as just a necessary thing (because everyone should know how to swim) and soccer as something we did because Pumpkin wanted to hang out more with her friends (and because my husband had a weird issue with her lack of "ball skills"). Now, I think that they may be more important than that.
Recently, Pumpkin announced that she wanted to stop going to swim lessons. Since she announced this right at the end of the day on swim lesson day, and neither of us had the energy to force the issue that night, she got her way for that one lesson. But as my husband and I talked about what we would do if the swim lesson refusal continued, he hit upon the reason she was refusing to go. There had been a trainee teacher shadowing her regular teacher at the last lesson, and she had let Pumpkin's head sink underwater at one point, which (1) freaked her out, and (2) convinced her she was "no good" at swimming. My husband worked out a plan to get her over that experience, and she went back to swim lessons. A couple of weeks later, she swam across the pool unassisted. She was so unbelievably proud of herself. And we took the opportunity to point out how this was something she thought she couldn't do, but she practiced and got better at it.
So tonight, Pumpkin and I went out after dinner and bought her the gear she needs for the next round of soccer classes, which start on Friday. She's excited for this class, but I'm a bit nervous for her, because it is more structured and competitive than the class she took last year- hence the need for shin guards and cleats (which annoys me no end- do five year olds really need this gear? I need to find the less upwardly mobile soccer class, I think). She has many talents, but so far, we have seen no sign that sports will be one of them. She will no doubt start figuring out that her friends are better at this than she is soon. I no longer think that is a bad thing.