My 7th-grade daughter is very bright and successful at school, but she’s a perfectionist and breaks down when she gets any sort of criticism. I’m worried she’s got “smart girl syndrome” and will only stick to her strengths to avoid criticism. How can I help her see that failure is not the end of the world?
This is a problem I see more and more in middle school as the years go by. Somewhere along the way we — as educators and parents — have mangled the message we send our kids about school. We talk about “growth mindset” an awful lot, but treat education like a race that needs to be won. We use words like “behind” and “accelerated” and spend time and money making sure our kids are ahead of the pack.
I am not by any means saying that you are at fault somehow or that she’s a perfectionist because of how she was raised, but it is part of a large picture of the words we say in schools versus the reality of a very score- and achievement-based system. I’m glad that you are taking this seriously; it is serious.
I suggest learning with her about the adolescent brain by hopping onto some TED talks or reading some books together. Address it as an issue lots of kids face and not just her. Make sure to praise her efforts and not her fixed qualities. Sometimes perfectionism can warrant some outside help from a therapist or a meeting with school staff.
Books that can help perfectionist girls take risks:
The Confidence Code for Girls by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman.
Photo courtesy Harper Collins.
Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn
for Teens by John C. Maxwell.
Photo Courtesy Little, Brown and Company.