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High IQ: Dealing with Perfectionism

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D


Q: My son is 8 years old and tested in the 99th percentile on the Slosson Intelligence test. He was a late talker. I believe that he does not want to attempt something unless he knows he will do it well. This is becoming apparent in school. In his regular classroom in 2nd grade, he complained he was bored because he "knew it all already." I then had him tested and he was put into a gifted math class and gifted reading class. After one month I pulled him out of the math class -- he was beside himself and crying nightly because he was overwhelmed with the work. He has done well in the reading class, but gets so bogged down if he has to make any kind of an effort to get work done. If the task in front of him is easy, he willingly sits down and completes it quickly. If the task is difficult, he procrastinates, won't focus, complains and cries. I don't know what to do to help him and I feel he needs to get past this now as it will become more and more difficult for him in the future. Help, please! 

A: Looks like you have a real tough one here! This is actually quite commonly associated with perfectionism among gifted children, which can actually be a good thing up to a certain extent. However, the downside is totally not wanting to do a task if the child feels that s/he is not able to complete the task as well as expected. It appears that he has been able to do school work quite effortlessly, so any effort becomes difficult in comparison. It is actually a good thing to have him in the gifted classes but the workload may have overwhelmed him. Not knowing how to deal with it, he get very frustrated and manifests his frustrations by procrastinating, diverting attention, complaining and crying (as you mentioned).

A possibility is to slow down, which in fact you have done by pulling him out of the math class. Perhaps, the tasks given to him may be too challenging that it overwhelms rather than challenging him. This is quite difficult as the school usually have limited sets of standard programs for all even if it is based on ability. Maybe, what he needs is something in-between that gives him space to try out something a little more difficult than much more difficult. Just because gifted children have the ability to learn the material does not mean that challenging them is in their best interests.

You may also want to see his teacher to discuss this problem. There might be something else bothering him in the gifted class rather than the material itself. Talk to him about his peers, his expectations and what he feels may be an ideal learning situation for him. Based on his response, you can advise him. His teacher would be the best person to consult and discuss how the school may cater for his needs. If you decide to allow him in the regular class, you may want to self-teach him at home using challenging material. If he becomes comfortable with more difficult task at home, there is a possibility that he may want to join the gifted class again.


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