Epic Fail
Several months ago, a new Ethiopian restaurant opened up in our humble city. The food is wonderful and the owner is from Ethiopia and has a passion for Ethiopian children who are living in the United States. A month or so ago she began Amharic classes for children. (Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia.) Friends of ours take their daughter, Frehiwot, and have said it's fantastic. Zinabu even told us he would love to relearn Amharic.

A win-win, right?


I didn't account for Zinabu's perfectionism to rear its ugly head. He refuses to go. Literally refuses. He actually began crying when he thought we were going to sign him up. He told me he wants to learn Amharic without other people around. Uh... what? He doesn't want anyone looking at him or noticing him or being in any way aware of his presence. This is common for him but we're usually able to work around him. For example, we went to a school roller skating party the other night and he put his roller blades on and stood by the wall for the first hour. Once I quit looking at him and stopped telling him to get out there and have a good time, he eventually made it onto the rink. He puts so much pressure on himself to do things perfectly. And if he can't do it perfectly (like roller skate or learn a new language) then he just plain won't.

The force is strong with this one.

So even though there is a fabulous Ethiopian culture/language class being held once a week only 3 miles from our home, we are not attending because he just

And I won't make him. That would just have the reverse effect and he would be miserable and most likely wind up hating Amharic and all things to do with Ethiopia. Which we do not want.

Perfectionist children are hard. Do you have one? Yes, he's brilliant in school. To the point we could probably have him skip second grade next year if we wanted to. But his brains are no match for his need to do everything perfectly. I'm stumped.


Bridget said...

Um. I was one.

cathy said...

bridget, what did your parents do? what do you remember about your childhood that helped you deal with that? i'm at a loss. he's missing out on so much because he doesn't want to fail.

hotflawedmama said...

that is tariku. wow, that is tariku.

we've tried bribery. as awful as that sounds that can work sometimes.

typically we just have to send in a sibling to do it first/with him and he will be more inclined to try it because he usually outshines his sibling.

good luck. please tell me what you end up doing!

Bridget said...

My earliest memory of my perfectionism is hiding underneath the table with an alphabet tracing thing trying to teach myself how to write the letters that I didn't know how to write b/c I didn't want to ask my mom to help. Sigh. I don't know what to tell you, Cathy. My parents always encouraged me and always praised me. I think the best you can do is to continue to build his self-esteem b/c with that comes confidence and not minding *so* much if you make mistakes in front of others...although I still hate it when I do....Honestly, the best thing my parents did? They encouraged me to study abroad in high school. Going to Spain and not knowing Spanish when I was 16 for a year turned my life upside down. Honestly, I hated it. Mostly. It was SO hard. But I am so grateful I did b/c it kind of broke that feeling of "must do everything right" and I HAD to do things wrong before I did them right. It was humbling. And I realized that people will still care about you even when you fumble. I wonder if that's something behind perfectionism. The fear that you won't be fully loved or accepted if you aren't perfect. I'm not sure. Keep the pressure low. Keep the encouragement high. Fine line. You're walking it brilliantly already. xo

Deirdre said...

Sidamo too. As soon as he realizes something might be a bit challenging for him, he refuses to do it or claims he's not good/smart/strong/whatever enough for it. I try praising effort instead of accomplishment (eg, "Wow, look how hard you worked on that!" or "My goodness, that was something you couldn't do at first, but you tried and tried and finally you did it!") Sometimes I think it helps, but not dramatically. I don't know the answer, but if anyone else has it I'd love to hear it.

rebekah said...

Matthew is not a perfectionist but he does automatically assume he can't do it.

I was given some great advice last summer from a woman I went to high school with who is now working at MIT on bio fuel. After meeting Quinn, she said to make sure we did not constantly call him smart. Because yes, he was smart at some things, perhaps many things, but no one can do everything above and beyond all the time and the pressure to succeed is too much.

It's difficult, because we actually don't say that to him all the time, but everyone else does. I mean, EVERYONE else.

Anyway, I'm agreeing with Bridg - keep the pressure low. Sounds easy, but it may not be. I dunno, maybe a lot of talk about how many times people fail at tons of things throughout their lives - that it's a normal course of living and in fact, you have to fail to succeed more and more.

It's a tough thing because I actually do have pretty high expectations for my kids - and when Matthew knows that, it works for him.

M and M said...

OMG, I left you the LONGEST comment about my perfectionist awesome 20 year old daughter...and it didn't show up? Pfooey! I will try to write it again (I wrote last night). Agh!!!!