My Child is a Perfectionist

My son is into a lot of sports, such as soccer, baseball, basketball and now golf. He has always been an "intense" player and he is very hard on himself. He gets upset with the least little mistake or bad play that he makes, and it ruins his attitude for the rest of the game. His coaches have tried to talk to him about it and so have my husband and I, but we don't see any change. I have talked to him many times about techniques to calm himself, such as counting to 10 or taking deep breathes before reacting, but to no avail. He is a very bright young man that does well in school and has many friends. This is our biggest problem with him. Any suggestions?

--A Parent Soup member
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Robert Schwebel

Clinical psychologist Robert Schwebel, PhD, has been in private practice for almost 30 years, counseling children, couples and... Read more

As my mother always said to me: '"This should be your worst problem." Sounds as though you have a basically well-adjusted child. But you are right -- maybe you can help him with his perfectionism.

First, I wonder if your son is also hard on himself when he has problems or setbacks in other aspects of life. How does he respond when he is frustrated with homework, or has a sub-par test score in school? How about when he is assembling something or using tools? This is important. If this same perfectionism applies in these behaviors, the problem is bigger than sports.

If it is just sport, then you have to wonder why. You have been doing the right thing, which is to talk with him. The skills you offered to teach are good ones -- deep breathing, counting to ten. They can be helpful. But it is also important to ask your son why he thinks he gets so intense? Why does it matter so much? Does it have something to do with the audience? Also, what is his "self-talk" when he gets frustrated? (i.e., "I'll never be good; I'll never be a star.") When he knows the self-talk, he can prepare some answers. It also is important that he sees the problem with his overreacting. It ruins his fun. If he sees it, does he care? If so, then how does he want to confront it?

Your son is old enough to do his own problem solving, with your support.

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