How to Raise Kids Who are Always Reaching for the Stars
But Who Need to Learn How to Fall
I’m fairly certain I won’t be offending my daughter if I refer to her as an overachiever. This will also not be the first time someone uses that phrase to describe her and judging by her tendencies, it won’t be the last. Sometimes this characteristic leads to stress, anxiety, and nights like tonight when it is way past bedtime and she is up working on a project she feels compelled to finish. It also leads to many successes for her, which probably fuels her desire to continue to work so hard.
And I have to admit that I worry sometimes about her exuberance to do so much so much of the time. Overachievers get a bad rap – social psychologists say that they can have difficulty accepting their own failures, yet tend to criticize themselves most harshly. Add to those concerns the fact that according to researchers, moms like me are possibly contributing to raising overachievers and my parental guilt and worry is in full swing. Moms who work, are the “Domestic Engineers” (my coffee cup says so), and are active in their children’s lives might just be raising overachieving children because we are setting falsely high standards when all we really want to do is take a nap.
Adding Balance to Your Overachiever’s Life
Instead of trying to get my daughter to lower her standards and keep a more sane level of calm around our household, I’ve been noticing some things that work better to help her learn to accept both achievements and dejections with grace – finding something she loves so much she is OK with settling for less than perfection and changing her definitions of success.
Change the Definition of Success
So my overachieving daughter (and I say that with the most love and respect a mother has for her kids), has this crazy dog. And this crazy dog has taught my daughter that perfection with pets is just not possible. The first night of dog training ever for my daughter and her pooch ended with me saying, “Maybe it will just be OK to attend the classes and not worry about the competition. In fact, let’s not plan on showing her this year.” As the dog screeched and cowered for fear of her own reflection in the mirror.
Fast forward 4 years and my daughter has been able to train and show her dog, and take top honors in youth in the state. Some might think this is just another example of overachievement, but in reality it is just one of those activities where my daughter has learned to see the value in the small – not the over-amplified. Some days she’s just glad the dog looked like she was having fun (even if she completely bombed the agility course).
Find a Fun Way to Fail
Safe places to fail help overachievers balance their need for control and drive with the real need for calm acceptance. For my daughter it is dog training. For your kids it might be a hobby where they get to explore and get messy, like painting or sculpting. Art is a wonderful way to teach children how to accept things as is, no overachieving necessary.
- Supply your kids with tools that are replaceable and changeable – such as clay
- Encourage them to create something without directions – like developing their own recipe (even if it turns into an inedible piece of unrecognizable matter)
Make a List of Strengths and Weaknesses
Work with your overachiever to develop personal lists of strengths and weaknesses – you can each create your own for your own selves (this isn’t about judging each other).
Pay attention the traits your child listed. Are there more tangible traits (such as excelling at sports or music or struggling with math), or personal characteristic traits (such as being a team player or struggling with holding her temper)?
Talk with your child about which traits she most values, and which ones she would like to further develop. Encourage her to be OK with certain traits remaining average – she doesn’t have to become a great tennis player or always get an A in math. Self-acceptance is a powerful thing.