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Book Talk #1: Letting Go of Perfect

October 12, 2014


The Coppell Gifted Association Lending Library features a selection of books and DVDs on parenting and education, especially in the area of giftedness. The range of books covers varied topics such as the parenting the gifted child, addressing the social and emotional needs of gifted children and adults, college planning for gifted kids, bullying, and a lot more. 

In each edition of our new series “Book Talk” , we will highlight one of the books in our library. We hope you will use our CGA Library- a  valuable resource, available exclusively for CGA members.


perfectIn this first edition of “Book Talk”, our spotlight is on the book Letting Go of Perfect: Overcoming Perfectionism in Kids. Written by Jill L. Adelson, Ph.D. and Hope E. Wilson, Ph.D., this book “pinpoints a crippling state of mentality among many kids today—the need to be absolutely perfect—and gives parents and teachers the guidance and support they need to help children break free of the anxieties and behaviors related to perfectionism.”

How many times have we seen our kids (or ourselves) struggle with finding that healthy balance with perfectionism, between wanting to go that extra step and knowing when to stop? What about the child that spends hours on homework to make sure it is perfect, the child that procrastinates because she fears failure, or the child that has an overly developed self-criticism. This book attempts to answer some of the questions you may have and provides some advice and strategies on how to use perfectionist tendencies in a healthy manner to their advantage. The descriptions and advice are not limited to gifted children, but often apply to them.

What follows below are some of the key ideas in this book; I recommend reading it in detail to better understand this complex, but very real issue.

Common myths about perfectionism:

  • Myth 1: All perfectionism is bad. Not all perfectionism is bad. Perfectionism can be healthy and adaptative. Examples include attainable goals, working toward mastery rather than performance, and high yet realistic standards. Unhealthy or maladaptive perfectionism includes unattainable standards and goals, being unsatisfied with high levels of effort and low self-esteem issues.
  • Myth 2: Only gifted children are perfectionists. While perfectionism is often associated with the gifted, it does not necessarily imply that it is restricted to only the gifted. Perfectionism has been found in students of varying ability levels.
  • Myth 3: No one knows what causes perfectionism. What makes a child (or adult) a perfectionist? Some of the influencers are self and personality (of course), but also family, teachers, peers and culture/society.
  • Myth 4: There are no ways to identify perfectionism. Experts in the field have actually developed a wide variety of measures to identify perfectionism. One caveat- do not focus on eliminating perfectionistic behaviors but on helping student use their perfectionism in a healthy way.
  • Myth 5: Adults cannot do anything to help young perfectionists. Fortunately that is not true. There are several strategies and interventions to help perfectionists use their perfectionism in a healthy way
  • Myth 6: There is only one type of perfectionist. Various researchers have conceptualized different types of perfectionistic behaviors. Besides the healthy and unhealthy discussed earlier, you have self-oriented perfectionists, other-oriented perfectionist and socially prescribed perfectionists.
  • Myth 7: Perfectionism is not really that harmful to children. Unhealthy perfectionism may seem minor in childhood years but these behaviors could escalate and lead to more serious psychological consequences.

The 5 types of perfectionists discussed in the book are based on the article “A Perfect Case Study- Perfectionism in Academically talented Fourth Graders” published in Gifted Child Today (Adelson, 2007):

1. The Academic Achiever- “must achieve 100%”

 This type holds unrealistically high expectations for their performance in academic pursuits and believes everything should be correct or they don’t know the subject matter. A few of the ways to work around this are to de-emphasize grades, celebrate learning and growth, and to be an example in your own mistakes.

2. The Aggravated Accuracy Assessor- “Exactness and Fixation on Re-dos” 

This type may chose to redo the same work over and over to try and make it perfect in their mind. In this situation, goal setting becomes key, and helping your child distinguish between realistic and unrealistic goals, and prioritizing become key to their success.

3. The Risk Evader- “All or Nothing”

This type fears failure and may choose not to attempt the task. Ways to help are to encourage intellectual risk-taking, emphasize enjoyment over perfection, and to adopt activities that are fun but not necessarily something they excel at.

4. The Controlling Image Manager- “I could have if I wanted to”

Makes excuses about imperfect grades or not winning but says he could have done it. In this setting, help your child set personal goals and not comparative goals, and applaud your child’s attempts and willingness to compete.

5. The Procrastinating Perfectionist- “If it stays in my mind then I can’t fail”

This type of learner will plan an extensive project but put off starting it for fear of failure. This type needs to find ways to relax standards during crunch time, needs help developing work plans and time management strategies.

Ways to help identify healthy and unhealthy perfectionism for each of the five types of perfectionists, are outlined and practical advice and strategies are given, to help children use perfectionism in a healthy way at school and home. Suggestions include preventing a crisis moment by setting up an environment conducive to studying, planning and prioritizing assignments while helping your child balance fun and work. The book also contains a wealth of additional resources for adults and kids including books (both fiction and non-fiction), websites, and games.

The information in the book is easy-to-read and understand, and has real life examples that you can relate. The language is not technical or full of jargon, and that new concepts were explained in detail; maybe at times too much detail- there is some amount of repetition and reiteration, but that, to a certain extent, helps solidify the concepts being discussed.The myth-busters section was a good add-on to debunk some of the misconceptions that are floating around about perfectionism. I found the discussions on the 5 types of perfectionists intriguing and interesting. I could see strands of each type in people whom I consider perfectionists, and that made the discussion relatable and easy to identify with. The strategies provided are practical, and while they are aimed at each of the different types of perfectionists, they are general enough to apply to many situations and interchangeable between types- which is realistic because each perfectionist may have manifestations of more than one type of perfectionism described in the book.

Overall, a good read for anyone who is (parenting) a perfectionist!

Click here to check out this and other available books from our lending library. Exclusive for our CGA members only. If you are interested in borrowing a book or DVD, please contact your campus rep or CGA Librarian.

 Is there a book you would like to read but is not in our library? Get in touch with the CGA Librarian; we are currently on the look-out for new and interesting books to add to our collection.


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