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How to Nurture a Perfectionist

Experts offer their ideas on nurturing a little perfectionist

"I have to start over!" How should you heed the frustrated cry of the perfectionist child? We asked a parent educator, an author, and a mom how to handle a kid's need to get it just right.

Jan Faull, M.Ed., parent educator and child development specialist, Seattle, WA:
"Encourage children to think of several possible answers to questions, issues, and problems. Perfectionists often become paralyzed in their thinking because they're looking for the right answer as determined by a parent, which then brings them approval and love. If you're a parent who is tied to the notion "There's only one way, my way is the right way," you might be encouraging perfectionism.

"Encourage unstructured, imaginative play— it's stress free. Plus free-flowing play reduces the stress they bring on themselves."

Rosemary Callard-Szulgit, Ed.D., author of Perfectionism and Gifted Children, Rochester, NY:
"Perfectionism is taking the pursuit of excellence to an unhealthy extreme. Helping perfectionist children keep perspective between what is crucial and what is not is vitally important. As parents, we need to set limits: If a five-year-old is coloring a picture and can't "make it perfect," the parent can bring the session to an end for now.

A perfectionist child may find it hard to listen to a compliment; he cannot accept praise because his focus is usually on his imperfections. Continue to share your compliments anyway.

Kelly Leusch, mom of Cooper, 4, Walford, IA:
"Cooper will get upset if he doesn't score the number of soccer goals he'd intended to, even if his team wins. We tell him that things won't always go the way you think they will, and really, if you are scoring eight goals, maybe you are being a ball hog anyway! We make silly hog noises and try to encourage him to relish his victories even if they aren't as big as he had hoped.

And when Cooper cries because one of his beloved dinosaurs has moved from its "spot," we say, "It's okay for the dinosaur to stay out of orderÑmaybe he likes a different view from time to time!"

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