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Imperfect children are just fine


         Romi is a Primary 4 student in Malaysia. He gets straight A's. He has been the top scorer in every examination since Kindergarten. He is also a school prefect. All of his teachers unanimously pronounce him to be a model student. At home, he is unfailingly helpful. His bedroom is obsessively tidy. He would be any family's pride, it would seem. But Romi couldn't enjoy his first evening bowling with the family. He stomps his feet, pouts, and whines - just because he throws a few gutter balls. His parents suspect that he's a perfectionist. The problem with perfection is that it's a never-ending uphill battle. The best that a perfect person can do, if there ever is such a person, is to maintain the status quo. You see, when you perceive yourself as perfect, there is nowhere else to go but downhill.


Pushed to the top
         Since it is just an illusion, the pursuit of perfection can be very damaging for a developing child. The young perfectionist's self-esteem is tied to his performance. His goal is to elicit favorable judgements from any who judge him - parents, teachers, society-at-large etc. Sometimes, those who is at a position to judge can unintentionally promote perfectionism. A teacher with a pupil who is driven to excel can be tempted to push that child just a little each day. Similarly, parents might expect more and more of a high-achieving child with each spectacular accomplishment. Our society has a hand in it too. In this culture and especially through the media, children get the message that they should improve on any flaws; whether it's in academic performance, athletic ability, friendship, or appearance. While some children seem to be born self-critical and high-achieving, most 'catch' it during their formative years.


Is your child perfect?
         How do you know if your child is a perfectionist? Child perfectionists are concerned with a flawless end product. So much so, that they have trouble enjoying the learning process. They cannot comprehend that learning is gradual and progressive, and that missteps are a vital part of it. In actual fact, lessons appropriated from errors are usually the best learned and remembered lessons of all. In an ironic turn of outcomes, the child perfectionist worry so much about a perfect result that they're often far less creative and productive than kids who simply set out to give it their best try. In extreme cases, they may suffer from paralysis by analysis. They find decision-making difficult because they fear making a mistake. Many such perfectionists lose their childhood spontaneity. They are so worried about being flawless that they let the fun slip out of their work and play, and possibly their lives.


Underachievers are perfectionists too!
         Young perfectionists usually end up taking one of two paths. They can either push themselves relentlessly to achieve, or they give up altogether. The former becoming overachievers while the latter becoming underachievers. The first group believes that if they can just be perfect, they will be loved and valued. But when they manage to achieve their goals, they will still feel dissatisfied. Their usual motto is, "If I perform more and better, then I'll finally deserve adulation". It's a desperate push to achieve more and more that may finally result in emotional and mental burnout.

         The other type of perfectionists, the underachievers, simply avoid challenges altogether, give up easily, or drop out. They are disillusioned, and they have stopped trying to win because 'winning' is just too difficult for them. This group keeps falling short of perfection and, sadly, comes to the conclusion that they'll forever be a failure. Their usual refrain is, "What's the point, I can never get it perfect". It's an all-or-nothing attitude, an extremism without any middle ground.


To be or not to be
         No parents would want their children to suffer from perfectionism, but understandably, they still want their children to work to reach their fullest potential. Therefore, it's crucial to distinguish between those who want to excel and those who are perfectionists. A child who merely wants to excel would think in this vein, "I want to get straight A's. But if I don't, at least I know I've tried. I'm still valued and loved". This child sets high goals for himself, while acknowledging the possibilty of failure. Even though he aims for perfection, he is not obsessed with it. The crucial difference - excellence is a choice, perfectionism is an obsession. In contrast, failure is never even remotely an option for the perfectionist. Children who develop to reach their potential have parents who cheer them on as they learn to walk, ride a bicycle, read and face academic challenges. When the child fails at any pursuits, parents don't pour on the criticism. Instead, they find the right moment to help their child learn from his mistakes.


Learning to live with imperfection
         What if you believe your child is a perfectionist? Is there anything that can be done to help the child, so that he may experience self-fulfillment, and feels loved and valued even when he falls short of perfection? Yes, you can help him. Here's how:
  • Encourage your child to set realistic and attainable goals. And when he achieved the goal, be sure to praise him.
  • Help your child find a hobby. Hobbies release stress and enable self-fulfillment.
  • Tell your child that learning is all about the process, not the end result. Progress is the objective, not perfection.
  • Remind your child, especially when he fails an undertaking, that he's loved not for what he does but just because he exists.
  • Teach your child to seek multiple answers to questions and alternative perpectives on situations. Discourage an all-or-nothing, black-or-white paradigm.
  • Help your child to focus on his strengths, not his weaknesses. No one excels at everything.
  • Stop criticizing and start encouraging your child more often. A perfectionist is so self-critical that he doesn't need it from you.
  • Encourage him to be forward-looking, not to dwell on past mistakes. But to learn from them instead before moving on.
  • Do not set a bad example for your child. If you have perfectionist tendencies, change those behaviours for his sake.


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Glossary of Terms :
(1) Tuition - Tutelage, the act of tutoring or teaching a student (pupil); Fees paid for instruction (especially for higher education). In Malaysia, tuition is more popularly used to denote tutoring rather than fee. Common Malaysian misspellings: Tiution, Tution. *(BM): Tuisyen, Tiusyen, Tusyen, Tuisen, Tiusen, Tuisyan, Tiusyan, Tusyan. | (2) Home Tuition - Tutoring that takes place at students' or tutors' home as opposed to at tuition centers; Also: Home Tutoring, Private Tuition, Private Tutoring. *(BM): Tuisyen Di Rumah, Tuisyen Swasta. | (3) Personal Tuition - Tutoring on the basis of one tutor catering to one student. Also: Personal Tutoring, Individual Tuition, Individual Tutoring, One-to-one Tuition, 1-to-1 Tutoring, One-to-one Tutoring, 1-to-1 Tuition. *(BM): Tuisyen Peribadi, Tuisyen Persendirian, Tuisyen Perseorangan, Tuisyen Individu. | (4) Group Tuition - Tutoring on the basis of one tutor catering to several (small number, but more than one) students. Also: Small Group Tuition, Small Class Tuition, Group Tutoring, Small Group Tutoring, Small Class Tutoring. *(BM): Tuisyen Berkumpulan, Tuisyen Kumpulan Kecil, Tuisyen Kelas Kecil. | (5) Tutors - Tuition Teachers, persons who conduct tuition. In Malaysia, teacher is more popularly used to denote a school teacher whereas tutor usually means a non-school teacher. Also: Tiutors, Tuitors. *(BM): Guru Sekolah, Cikgu Sekolah, Pengajar Tuisyen, Guru Tuisyen, Cikgu Tuisyen. | (6) Home Tutors - Tutors who provide home tuition as opposed to those who teach at tuition centres. Also: Private Tutors, Personal Tutors, Individual Tutors, One-to-one Tutors, 1-to-1 Tutors, Group Tutors, Small Group Tutors, Private Teachers, Personal Teachers, Individual Teachers, One-to-one Teachers, 1-to-1 Teachers, Group Teachers, Small Group Teachers, Private Tuition Teachers, Personal Tuition Teachers, Individual Tuition Teachers, One-to-one Tuition Teachers, 1-to-1 Tuition Teachers, Group Tuition Teachers, Small Group Tuition Teachers. *(BM): Pengajar Di Rumah, Pengajar Swasta, Pengajar Peribadi, Pengajar Persendirian, Pengajar Perseorangan, Guru Di Rumah, Guru Swasta, Guru Peribadi, Guru Persendirian, Guru Perseorangan, Cikgu Di Rumah, Cikgu Swasta, Cikgu Peribadi, Cikgu Persendirian, Cikgu Perseorangan. | (7) Tuition Centers - Private institutions that conduct tuition on classroom-like settings. Also: Tuition Centres, Tutorial Centers, Tutorial Centres, Tuition Classes, Tutorial Classes, Tutoring Classes. *(BM): Pusat Tuisyen, Pusat Bimbingan, Pusat Tutorial, Kelas Tuisyen. | (8) Home Tuition Jobs - Home tuition vacancies; Posts to be filled by home tutors. Also: Private Tuition Jobs, Home Tutoring Jobs, Private Tutoring Jobs, Home Tuition Assignments, Private Tuition Assignments, Home Tutoring Assignments, Private Tutoring Assignments, Private Tuition Vacancies, Home Tutoring Vacancies, Private Tutoring Vacancies. *(BM): Jawatan Kosong Tuisyen, Pekerjaan Tuisyen, Kerja Tuisyen, Tugasan Tuisyen. | (9) Home Tutees - Home tuition students; Pupils receiving home tuition from home tutors. *(BM): Pelajar Tuisyen, Murid Tuisyen, Penuntut Tuisyen. | *(BM) denotes terms in Bahasa Melayu or Malay Language.

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