It's not uncommon for high-ability children to also be perfectionists.   Whether they worry about getting a drawing exactly right, earning all A's in school, or feeling helpless in fixing society's downfalls, approximately 20% of gifted children suffer from perfectionism to the degree it causes problems.  

All perfectionism is not bad. Setting personal standards and pursuing excellence is important and healthy in many life situations.   However, perfectionism can become unhealthy when it causes stress, pain, illness, procrastination, and underachievement.  While not inclusive, some causes of perfectionism include a desire to please others, early successes and no failures at a young age, and difficulty setting realistic goals.

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


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