Perfectionism and Procrastination in Gifted Children

This past week Heather Cachat (@HeatherCachat) moderated the #ohiogtchat. The topic was perfectionism and procrastination. (I hope that you get the chance to read the transcript.) When I was choosing topics to talk about this was one that I knew I would have to. This is a topic that is personal to me. I see both of these issues with some of my gifted students, and in one of my own children.

One trait that i often see in my students is perfectionism. Now, not all perfectionistic behaviors are negative. According to NAGC, here are some perfectionistic behaviors and ways to manage it:

Healthy perfectionism

  • Doing the best you can with the time and tools you have–and then moving on
  • Setting high personal standards with a gentle acceptance of self
  • Managing behaviors to not interfere with daily life

Unhealthy perfectionism

  • Emphasizing and/or rewarding performance over other aspects of life
  • Perceiving that one’s work is never good enough
  • Feeling continually dissatisfied about one’s work–which can lead to depression, anxiety, and other physical symptoms
  • Feeling guilty if not engaged in meaningful work at all times
  • Having a compulsive drive to achieve, where personal value is based on what is produced or accomplished

Tips for Parents & Teachers in Managing Perfectionism

  • Watch for signs of unhealthy perfectionism and intervene if necessary
  • Adults should model a healthy approach and be aware of their own predispositions toward compulsive excellence
  • Refrain from setting high, non-negotiable standards
  • Emphasize the effort and process, not the end-result 
  • Do not withhold affection, support, or encouragement if goals are not met
  • Teach your gifted child to manage perfectionistic behaviors and focus on positive self-talk

When looking at procrastination, Ian byrd of Byrdseed has some ideas on why students may procrastinate:

  • Fear: some people might wait until the last-minute because they’re afraid to tackle something difficult.
  • Confidence: perhaps they’re overconfident, thinking the task will truly only take that last-minute.
  • Busy-ness: maybe the child is over-committed and waits until the last-minute because that’s the only minute they have.

What I see in my students who deal with perfectionistic behaviors is the fact they put so much pressure in themselves to be perfect. They have high anxiety with projects because they see that project in their head in its perfect state, and they want that image to match. If it doesn’t they show some of those perfectionistic negative behaviors. We have to show gifted children that is it alright to not be perfect, or even at times fail. There is a lot one can learn from failure.

As I stated above, one of my own children deals with procrastination. It can be very frustrating to see such a smart child not doing well because they procrastinate and turn in work that is sub-par. We have been trying to manage this behavior for several years. Just know that when helping children manage their procrastination and perfectionistic behaviors it may take several years for them to finally get the idea on how to manage their behaviors.

For parents, teachers, and administrators here are some links that I have collected, and some from the #ohiogtchat that I think that will help you.

From the Chat
Linda Silverman, ch.9 Living w Intensity
Book: Fighting Invisible Tigers
Lisa Rivero’s book The Smart Teens’ Guide to Living w Intensity​
Thomas Greenspon’s book Freeing Our Families from Perfectionism

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