Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's Good Enough!

Parents of highly gifted children know how hard it can be to deal with perfectionist tendencies. This is perhaps the single biggest challenge when dealing with intelligent kids. My daughter is very well adjusted. However, the perfectionist gene is a bit of an issue for her. She is not only an extreme perfectionist but also hyper-competitive. Unfortunately, the combination of these two personality traits can create serious difficulties, and dealing with them is the biggest challenge in our daily routine.

A basic strategy advocated by psychologists is the "good-enough" method. This basically means that parents tell an obsessed child that what he or she did is good enough and does not have to be perfect. This is easier said than done. While high intelligence certainly contributes to success, reasonable intelligence coupled with persistence and focus often leads to more optimal outcomes. Hence, it is extremely important for parents to learn when to encourage the perfectionist tendency and when to say "good enough."

We have been working on this for approximately one year. Our daughter is much better now when it comes to academics and the arts. She knows when to stop. She is beginning to understand when it's good enough. We cannot say the same thing about sports. Whether we play video games on the Wii, play tennis, race each other, or wrestle, she must always win. Losing is simply not an option. It does not matter to her if a kid twice her size beats her at basketball. She simply melts. She cries. She cannot help herself. This is clearly a problem. There are always going to be quite a few people better than her at sports. Hence, she will have to learn her to deal with it. There will be very few people better than her academically until she enters -- if she ever makes it -- an elite university. Hence, we need to help her deal with the reality that no matter what she tries, there is almost certainly somebody better than her.

It occurred to me during our latest summer vacation that golf is probably a good game to teach patience, hard work, and humility. My daughter likes the game. I plan to play with her a few times a month. I have explained to her that golf is possibly the most frustrating game in the world. She says she understands. We will see. Perhaps, the lessons of the game will carry into other aspects of her life. Plus, it is very nice to enjoy quality, father-daughter time every few weeks!

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