Coping With a Four-Year Old Perfectionist


My four-year old is a perfectionist. I don’t know where he gets it. It’s not like I ever cried for two days over a B+ in college, or re-did the place cards for my wedding three times so the lettering would be 100 percent consistent… Okay. So I know exactly where he gets it.

He’s revealed his perfectionist tendencies before, but they were brought home quite firmly to me yesterday while we were in the midst of creating superhero identities for the family. He had me write the superhero’s name and traits on the top of the page – for example, Daddy is Captain Strong, with the power to lift up cars, and Mommy is Captain Cartwheel, with the power to – you know – do cartwheels (the one athletic talent I have that impresses my children). He then drew the superhero in costume on the bottom half of the page. We were having a wonderfully giggly time, and he was in the middle of drawing the most magnificent rendering of a three-headed superhero I have ever seen, when he started sobbing, suddenly and heart-wrenchingly.

He told me he had “ruined” his drawing because the mouth on the third head was ever so slightly outside the line. I protested. The drawing, I told him, was stunning. Gorgeous. My favorite superhero picture of all time. True, all of it, but it was completely ineffectual. I suggested we make a newer, even better drawing. This suggestion was about as successful as you’d guess. Then his daddy took him around the house and showed him the art we have on our walls – lots of big, splashy abstracts – and explained how even the greatest artists don’t make “perfect” drawings; that imperfections are part of art and even make it better, more interesting. He didn’t buy it. He was still beside himself. I offered ice-cream. No dice. It was time to get serious.

I went through my office supplies and pulled out the white-out, carefully covered and dried the offending head, and let him re-draw it. Predictably, he wasn’t happy with the results. The sobbing continued. Finally, I hit upon a (brilliant) solution. I took out a fresh piece of paper, which he filled with dozens of heads of different sizes and colors and features, until he found one that satisfied him. We cut it out and glued it overtop of the superhero’s third neck. He pronounced it perfect. We solved this one. Mommy is a superhero indeed. But my heart breaks over the distress his mistakes cause him. More than anything, I want my kids to know that it’s okay to color outside of the lines, which we all do, inevitably, throughout our lives. How do I help my little perfectionist take his “imperfections” in stride?

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