She's a perfectionist, see, and so am I (well, I'm in recovery). And this is challenging in itself, not because I can't relate, but because part of the perfectionism deal is that you don't really actually care what other people say about it when you're going over the top. At least in mine and Morgan's cases. Getting control over one's control issues needs to come from inside, so no amount of reasonableness from someone else is going to make a huge difference until you're actually ready to listen. (Again, for me--maybe other people are more reasonable than I am/was.)
So she had these assignments for her co-op classes and absolutely lost her mind over one of them. Now, homework in and of itself is a thing we rarely encounter here. She's very self-directed at home, so I don't really give her assignments on a regular basis. And thank goodness, because if I had to battle people frequently over homework . . . well, it would be ugly. (This homework advantage balances out the couple of disadvantages of homeschooling, namely, the fact that they are HERE all the time so it's hard for me to get a break from them and of course the house is always a mess.)
But I digress.
One of these assignments was pretty much done and there were no problems. The other one, though, wow. She was taking a class called Classical Book Club and one of the things they were supposed to do was have a book journal where they wrote about the book they all read for the session (Robin Hood) as well as listed other books they've read. Each time I talked to her about this project during the session, she was hesitant and evasive. I see this now as some sort of Sign.
And honestly, I couldn't really work up a lot of caring about whether she completed this assignment. It's not that I don't see the value in doing this kind of work, but in the grand scheme of things, I wasn't too concerned about her reluctance to do it. For one thing, this is an optional co-op class. And I know the teacher (hello, if you're reading this!) and I knew that the teacher wouldn't be upset if Morgan chose not to do the assignment.
For another thing, Morgan is 6.5 years old. Yes, she is academically gifted, and was probably the youngest kid in the class. But I think what she is capable of reading and comprehending and enjoying far outpaces her capability to produce the kind of assignments that are more appropriate for kids a few years older. I was aware that this class might be a bit beyond her when we signed up for it, but she really wanted to take it, and I figured it would be a good experience. And so it was--just not the experience I'd had in mind!
But Morgan wanted to do this assignment. REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted to do this assignment. So I pledged to help her. And thus began a two-hour roller coaster of emotions.
She couldn't figure out where to begin. I gave her suggestions. They were rejected. I gave her better suggestions (ha!). Rejected. I gave her "one small step" she could do to get started (my own personal strategy for when I'm stuck on how to begin something).
She cried, she pounded her fists on her notebook, she yelled "It's not good enough!"
I told her many times that she didn't need to complete the assignment, that it was fine with me if she chose not to do it. Didn't matter. I told her it would probably be fine with her teacher (and it would have been) if she chose not to do it. Didn't matter.
She wanted a ribbon for doing the journal (each kid received a participation certificate, so I don't know where she got the idea she'd get a ribbon). She kept asking me if she'd still get a ribbon if she didn't do the assignment. I had to answer honestly--if that was the deal with the class, then no, she probably wouldn't get a ribbon. Tears. I even told her we could get ribbons at a craft store, if ribbon-having was the thing she was really after. But she wanted that ribbon for doing the assignment, so no deal.
She tried and screamed and tried. And everything she tried was NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Oh it was heartbreaking to watch.
Out of ideas, I finally just gave her some space. And got myself some space, too, because I was getting all keyed up, mostly because I was feeling frustrated that she wasn't even listening to my brilliant ideas, and that she was unable to accept my reassurances. That frustration was creeping into my tone of voice as I was talking to her, and I know that wasn't helping things. And it only took me a little over an hour of this to realize that "giving her some space" was an option! (Sheesh.)
After a while, she came to me, and serenely told me that she'd thought it over and come to a decision. She said "I don't really want a ribbon that badly. I'm choosing to skip the assignment." And all was puppies and rainbows after that.
So what did I learn?
- I learned that there may be some early signs she is feeling worried/frustrated/or perfectionist-y about projects or homework assignments. I'll look out for these in the future. What I can do about it, I'm not at all sure, but at least I can prepare myself for the oncoming storm.
- I learned to ask about what she thinks she'll get out of assignments. Once the ribbon idea came out, I was able to understand a bit more about why it was more difficult for her to make the decision to skip the assignment.
- I learned that I should step out of her perfectionism/frustration/persistence cycle EARLY ON, as early as I realize it's happening, maybe, and certainly when I've reached the frustration point myself. I want to be there and be helpful and supportive, but I think my suggestions and questions were making it worse. It was only when we took a break that she was able to come to her decision. I think maybe what she wants or needs from me is merely a shoulder to cry on. I could be wrong about this--we'll see how this plays out next time. And I'm confident there will be a next time.
- I learned that maybe we should start assignments a bit earlier than three days before it's due. Usually we do the assignments pretty close to the due date because sometimes if they do them early, they forget all about it. But maybe that's a Ryan thing. Maybe Morgan needs more time.
- I'm glad the decision to complete the assignment was hers and hers alone. I think that part went well. And even though I can't get excited about ribbons per se, that ribbon was really important to her, and she was wrestling with values and the actions she must take to earn those values. In the end, she decided that the ribbon was not a value that was worth this struggle over how to complete this assignment. I think it's okay that it took her a while to figure this out, but I'm glad I stayed completely out of that decision and that it was hers completely. Always good to practice weighing values and making decisions about that, even when it's hard to struggle through in the moment.
- I'm glad she took the class. In her calmer moments while the fit was happening, she was able to tell me large chunks of the Robin Hood story. She'd been paying attention and listening and reading her book. She liked the story and enjoyed the class. And that's all that really matters at this point.
So overall, this was good experience for both of us. It's funny how different she and Ryan are from each other. Whatever my struggles with Ryan have been, he is very confident that whatever he produces for his class assignments are nothing short of brilliant and awesome.
And also, I'm glad we're on a break from classes for the holidays! So so so so so so glad.