Discussion on strategies to support gifted kiddos who are perfectionists

I am going to post my  assignment for my Gifted class as a blog post this week…. I know I know it’s kinda cheating!  But I like some of the points I made here and want to share!  The assignment this week was all about gifted children’s tendency to be perfectionists….and not in a good way.  That these bright children feel a ton of pressure to be the best and or perfect.  In this assignment I was asked to discuss strategies to support two of the common thought patterns and two common feeling patterns that fall under this perfectionist category.   


“Everything should be clearly black or white, Grays are a sign of confused thinking.”

“If I can’t do it perfectly what’s the point?”

First of  all, I would have a conversation with my students in regards to any of this perfectionist thinking expressed to me.  I would start with acknowledging that the thoughts he or she is expressing are totally normal for Gifted kiddos.  I think it is so important to sit down with kids and let them know what I know about Gifted minds and how they work.  I would most definitely share what I know about the giftedness tendency to want to be perfect.  This conversation, for me next fall, will start immediately with my gifted students that show me any of these behaviors.  If I need to I will preemptively let the students know of this is something that may or may not happen for them and to them…..that need to be perfect.

When I approached this with my own son, he felt a ton of relief in hearing this was not an odd way of thinking…but something totally normal for the gifted mind…and in fact, something that reassures him he is, truly gifted.

“Everything should be clearly black or white, Grays are a sign of confused thinking.”

In my class I fell I see a lot of variations of this thinking.  I am a very ‘out of the box’ teacher.  I don’t always ask for an exact answer and I allow for a lot of wiggle room in any project or written answer.  My gifted students get a little uncomfortable with this….although studies show they may want more challenge, I find that a lot of times the gifted are accustomed to worksheets and answering the questions in the back of the book.  So, then they meet me and they are asked to think differently and although we all know they CAN do it…they often are very anxious in something, which feels to them, so vague.

This is the most common way I have seen this black and white thinking….  Students wanting to do what they know and stay in line with clear objectives where answers are not varied, are concise and exact.

What I will help students be aware of – is- that there is  much to celebrate in the gray.  The gray is where we try and fail.  The gray is where we can think existentially or differently.  I will also explain how something that were once gray are now black or white.  NASA now knows there are planets that are ‘earth like’….  Growing up there was a black or white answer to that…. To imagine there may be another earth like planet was gray…..

I will/would bring in lessons that show evidence of what I am talking about throughout history.

In addition, I will point out times that I may be operating in the gray and share this with my students.  I will show them that sometimes even adults are unsure….and those in between places help us get to destinations in creative and innovative ways.

I will also help children learn that being mindful of the anxiety they feel when they operate in the gray can help them to label it….and push through it.  If they can anticipate that they may be uncomfortable in the gray….they can more easily manage the emotions that keep them from that type of thinking.  I will share that I too have anxiety when I am unsure and that I also want answers to be black or white…and also the coping techniques of mindfulness (mindful breathing and sitting) that really help me with these anxious times.


“If I can’t do it perfectly what’s the point?”

This is by far the most common thing I hear out of the mouths of our gifted kiddos.  I am constantly having parent conferences where I explain to the parents that their child is not turning in the work and that in middle school it  is a points game…so anything is better than nothing on the grade sheet.  SO SO SO SO often the child, we find out, is not turning in the work because it is not complete or rushed.  I will find it when I look in the locker or even in their folders.

The strategies I discussed above about talking with students will be the basis for this discussion.  Again, constant connecting with students is the best strategy for anything to do with the gifted in our classes….really with any student.

Letting the students know we care and that we understand why they are doing what they are doing can and will go a long way with my kids.

As recommended in the lecture, I will ask the student what would happen IF you turned it in not perfect.  Since I personally am a pretty chill grader I would explain that although they may lose a point or two…depending on the lack of completion a project not aesthetically perfect can still earn an A if evidence I am looking for is well shown and explained.

I would explain the points game…and how vital it is for middle school that he or she see what is really happening with his or her work.  Because my 6th graders are just learning about points this is a great place to start, and help them see the big picture.

I would also explain to the kiddo that there are times when we need to be VERY thorough and there are other times that we do not need to be so concerned.  I see this as an issue in my class….the gifted students see every assignment as a final project.  I would teach them that in school there are journals and there are essays!

I would also explain that in my class it IS (as suggested in lecture) about the process.  I will also design assignments that SHOW this….like giving points for explaining…so the grade is not about perfection but about SHOWING your learning path.

Even still there would be times they would not think their work perfect….

I would share my personal struggle with this….that is actually happening as I type.  IF I AM going to do something I do it FULLY!  Sometimes, when it comes to my garage being cleaned …I just will not do it at all until I can fully re-organize and re-do what I want to do.  As I sit here I will myself, make a goal to just do a little each day to help organize my garage.  I literally have said I don’t want to do it until it can be perfect!

Sharing the real journals we all have will definitely be a good strategy for this type of thinking.


Extremely worried about details

Disgusted or angry with herself when she is criticized

I am big on discussing feeling with my 6th graders.  When it comes to feelings and learning I like to model that learning is beautiful, and failure is part of that!  As suggested in the lecture, we need to share the idea that everything is not always vital nor as bad as it seems…..

First, when students become extremely worried about details it can be an anxious and stressful on their whole being.  This preoccupation with the little things is a sign of the deeply sensitive, perceptive gifted learner.

I also get bogged down by details….so much so that I sometimes cannot complete a lesson plan as I get carried away on the font, the videos that support, or the layout….  I think sharing how I feel their stress is a great place to connect on this topic.  I would also walk them through the fact that there are times to concern yourself with details (math problems) and times that it is not that important…like what color font to use on a poster.  I see my gifted students spending WAY TO MUCH TIME on art….so next year I will definite be more prepared for this as I do a lot of projects that incorporate art.

I think that a lot of times students worry about details when they are unsure….so I a strategy I would use is to make sure there was one on one time for gifted students to get validation and to get support before they swim around and around with their repetitive detail thoughts.

I would candidly that a skill they will need for secondary ed will be to know when to focus on the big picture and when to let go of worry about the details. Again, teaching mindfulness is vital here.  If students REALIZE they are worrying….then they will be able to shift away from that thinking and take a breath and SHIFT to their breath….   I think the power of mindfulness is that you teach all kids how to be aware of where their attention is and HOW to focus on the big picture.  For the gifted students I would handle this by referencing our mindfulness lessons and then also share how this is an expected and documented characteristic of a gifted student thinking.

The next feeling statement I would and will address in my classroom is a big one, Disgusted or angry with herself when she is criticized!  This is VERY common with 6th graders as they are at all different levels of maturity.  Now that I know what I know about the gifted children I so easily see this as a BIG issue to supported gifted children with.

A technique I will use is to again reference a mindfulness lesson about how our brain is hard wired for negativity.  Our hunter gatherer ancestors HAD to look for the negative to stay alive.  THAT is WHY our brains always want to go to the negative…it is for survival.  I would share that this is something we can teach ourselves not to do.  We know that happy people can be more productive.  When we are stressed and caught in negative thoughts our bodies are geared up for survival and that is not conducive to learning.  We need to be in a calm and receptive place to learn.  I would teach students to catch themselves doing the negative self-talk….and then stop, take a breath, observe the cycle of negativity and then proceed to something that can be more productive.  I would have them do the breath work that focusses on the exhale. In their nose out their mouth….  When you focus on the exhale studies show that it calms the vegus nerve…the big nerve that makes you feel that anxiety in the pit of your stomach.

I would model this all year and I do model this always.  That we need to love ourselves and be our own best friends is a foundational emotional tool for all humans!

I would definitely talk this out with a student…and have done this for years.  Now, I will add the information I learned about gifted learners.  That this is a common thinking behavior for the gifted children because of their tendency to want to be perfect.  I will have long dialogues with my students this year….and I am so looking forward to better supporting these children in these anxious thoughts and feelings.

The views expressed on this blog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the PVPUSD.