How To Fail 101
December 22, 2016 8:27 PM   Subscribe

My 9 year old has anxiety, newly diagnosed ADHD, and has a tendency toward perfectionism. What activities, hobbies, kinds of conversations, etc can we engage in to encourage and celebrate the imperfect and to reframe the meaning of 'failure'?

My 9 year old is an extremely sensitive child with a firecracker spirit. She has BIG emotions and for her everything is either "It's the best day ever, rainbows and unicorns!!!" or "Everything is horrible, I am a failure and I hate my life." She's smart but is struggling somewhat academically; there is also a mean girl situation going on at school, so the social piece is difficult right now as well. She is newly diagnosed with ADHD so while she wants to do everything perfectly and wants to please, she just can't. This brings on shame, guilt, frustration, and sometimes over-apologizing, in between temper tantrums and simply being overwhelmed and angry. We are already very low pressure as far as grades and other parental demands, but clearly we need to create the most loving and gentle environment right now so that her anxiety can be eased, she can feel like she's good at something, and so we can encourage a growth mindset. She previously loved soccer but when the coach would offer a suggestion she would just freeze and sometimes cry. Her sensitivity dial is simply ramped way, way up. It's hard to find new interests and hobbies since that requires taking risks and making mistakes/not being perfect. Basically, everything is hard right now.

She has started a med for ADHD and has the appropriate counseling, medical/psych and school supports, so I'm only looking for things we can do at home to help. What has helped you or a child to learn to be okay with trying new things? How can we reframe 'failure' into celebrating that effort was made? What kind of language/stories/advice would you want to hear if you were feeling this way? This is the type of thing I'm after. Thanks so much.
posted by sealee to Human Relations (38 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
What opportunities does she have to see you try, fail, get feedback, take it in the spirit you want to encourage and try again? Children tend to think of their parents as infallible, but maybe if she saw you fail at something, react positively to that failure and try again it could help. You could use it as a discussion tool. Even better if it's something she can do that you can't and she can be involved in the feedback and encouragement. I'm thinking skating/rollerblading, playing a certain video game, making friendship bracelets, kids' science experiment set, etc. Let her lead and you follow imperfectly.

PS - I wish there was a better word to use here than fail. It's only failure if you never try again. Otherwise it's just another step toward getting proficient at something, and just as important to the process as doing it right.
posted by cecic at 8:45 PM on December 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Slack line? Fail lots, have fun, get better, etc.

Also the only real teachers are gravity and motor control, so learning is separated from any human judgments.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:54 PM on December 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Cecic, I totally agree that 'fail' is not the right word. It's accepting that things are a process, an experiment, and I love the idea of having her teach me or her siblings something - perhaps we purposely do it wrong, for laughs/lightness even... that's *exactly* the thing I'm looking for. Thanks. We do share stories of mistakes we have made and she's always in shock that Her Parents Messed Up. But that only goes so far and I think real time things are better than anecdotes.

Saltysalticid, the removal of judgement is exactly what I'm after. Perfect.

(And sorry, no more comments from me).
posted by sealee at 8:59 PM on December 22, 2016


I was not unlike this as a kid and in my case "Why can't I just have a stupid growth mindset like I'm supposed to??" was definitely a viable source of anxiety, even though my parents meant very well.

Exposing her to and normalizing—not failure, but the way that things don't always turn out like you plan even when you do everything as well as you can, is important, or at least it was for me. My problem was that I thought everything was in my control, when in fact it wasn't. An ADHD diagnosis can sometimes screw that up to where you still feel like you should be capable of controlling everything but you aren't responsible for it, but I've found it much better (at least as an adult) to switch those around—to accept that I can't control everything, accept responsibility for most of it anyway, and (because of the way those two things interact) accept that the consequences of a mistake or a problem I'm responsible for won't be nearly as disastrous as my brain is trying to tell me.
posted by Polycarp at 9:08 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think this might be something she could work on in free play. Is she getting any? Situations where she's under constant observation (classes, structured activities) might not be ideal for having the kind of low-stakes risk taking experiences she needs right now. Role play on her own, just bumbling around in the back yard (slack line or trampoline optional). I know it doesn't sound like much - no theory, program, progress chart - but unsupervised free play is so crucial for kids, and so rare nowadays.
posted by The Toad at 9:12 PM on December 22, 2016 [11 favorites]


Sort of a shot in the dark here, but if y'all don't have a dog, their unconditional love is helpful during a shame storm, their 'failures' are easy to empathize with and explain as totally normal, and their gradual improvement is all about repetition with tiny rewards--all pretty good life lessons, allegorically speaking.
posted by Wobbuffet at 9:21 PM on December 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


Sounds like she might be a great theatre kid.
posted by Miko at 9:29 PM on December 22, 2016


Arts and crafts? And not the kinds with kits or teachers - just a box full of paints and crayons and clay and pipe cleaners and papers and stickers and things.
posted by umwhat at 9:31 PM on December 22, 2016


Cooking? I have two kids who struggle with perfectionism and anxiety in different ways, and they thrive on cooking with parents and learning to cook themselves for simple things. One just made bread from scratch and we had to adjust the recipe and get hands messy and clean up and despite being fussy about those things in general, enjoyed the experience highly. Cooking gives you lots of chances to do-over - the food gets burnt, chuck it, and start again. Parents can model good reactions to mistakes, there are easy recipes and ways to increase difficulties slowly with techniques, and you end up with yummy food and a positive response from others. Put her in charge of breakfast every day, or helping with dinner prep.

Pets are definitely helpful, especially in being responsible (parents have to back-up that responsibility so the pet never suffers, but enforcing responsibility and showing how the pet thrives on attention and responsible caring and forgives uneven minor mistakes has been very good.However I have had to transfer child "ownership" of pets to other adults/children in the family because a kid couldn't handle the stress of the responsibility so I would have a family pet, not a "your special" pet first.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 9:49 PM on December 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


There was one quote that snapped me out of this behavior not long ago. I don't know that it'd work or help you, but it was from the (generally excellent) cartoon Adventure Time. Jake the Dog says, "sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something."

I don't know why, but that one quote completely kicked my ass and motivated me to work more at things I am bad at and not give up so easily.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 9:50 PM on December 22, 2016 [20 favorites]


Nonpermanent art so it doesn't matter how it looks because it is going to be erased anyway - soap on the bathroom mirror, dry erase markers on white board or glass (like sliding glass door)

Make a number of things - like five clay designs and then decide for each one what she likes best. She has to find something good to say about every one. (Lesson - something good that can be appreciated about every thing, even if she thinks it is overall a "failure") You can do you own set of projects at the same time and model how to talk about it.

Seconding cooking, especially if there enthusiastic family members to eat the results.
posted by metahawk at 9:56 PM on December 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Animals? Can she take riding lessons or can she volunteer at a shelter. I taught horseback riding to kids for years and it's pretty low stress at that age plus the animals themselves are very calming and grounding. There is no real emphasis on perfection, just on hard work and caring for the animals and enough structure to keep bullying etc away. Plus it's fun and you have to learn to give up some control to work in a partnership. Lots of kids did really well at the barn that had all kinds of issues at school.
posted by fshgrl at 10:11 PM on December 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Two sports that are about self-development are golf and swimming, though access to a pool or putt-putt/driving range/9 hole is a factor. Look over what local parks & recreation has to offer.

Gardening,or a gardening project is the sort of activity that has a lot of uncertainty built in.

Play card games, like poker or rummy, where a series of hands can take the edge off of winning or losing.

Go out and have fun when the weather is wonky, rather than cancelling - make the most of it & lead with your bright, creative attitude.

Hope this sparks some ideas for you.
posted by childofTethys at 10:26 PM on December 22, 2016


Just saw the theater comment-is there improv for kids? That might be a good way to develop the skills in a fun environment
posted by childofTethys at 10:30 PM on December 22, 2016


I recently saw a great analogy for the value of failure. Might be worth showing her to see what she makes of it?

My kids school does a lot of simple engineering projects to help with exactly this. Cardboard arcade games (google Caine's Arcade), building a weatherproof model house, building a boat that can carry a toy bear across a bathtub, etc. The value in these engineering projects is that failure is expected and explicitly part of the design process. Build the model house or the arcade game, and test it. What happened? Did it fail? How did it fail? What did we learn from that? How can we revise it to improve? You don't have to be so literal with the questions, but this process is really valuable. I love the Caines Arcade exercise because kids inherently enjoy games, and the play testing process is the most important part.
posted by Joh at 10:50 PM on December 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I wish i had the link, or could even remember where i saw it. But i recently saw a video (or written interview) where the storyteller explained that every day at dinner growing up her dad asked her what she failed at that day, and basically high fived her whenever she had a story to tell about her trying something and it not going as hoped. It normalized failing, like it was the expected part of the process -- and as adult now she is so thankful because she is completely unafraid of just going out and trying something; failure's just another thing that happens.

I really wish i had the link, because the story really stuck with me. Maybe you could try something similar?
posted by cgg at 11:03 PM on December 22, 2016 [18 favorites]


I'm a recovering perfectionist, and one of the most liberating things for me (apart from full contact sparring) has been jamming with a band. You can't try to prepare to get it "right" because you're just making it up as you go, being creative. The home version I do is singing made up on the spot songs or terrible freestyle raps in the car while I'm driving - something about being forced into the moment really helps to centre me.
posted by Chrysalis at 12:37 AM on December 23, 2016


She might like rock climbing? I'm a person who has always hated being publicly bad at things, but rock climbing is really hard and the gym is filled with people who are trying really hard to do something really hard, and doing the same things over and over to get incrementally better, and so even though I'm just a beginner, I don't feel terrible when I mess up or need to start over. Plus it makes me feel really strong and awesome when it works, eventually.
posted by ChuraChura at 2:02 AM on December 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


Here are some of the things I do as a primary school teacher that you might be able to adapt/use at home:

(On preview, I apologise for length. This is something I'm very passionate about!)

I model making mistakes all the time and I'm super comfortable letting my kids correct me. I verbalise/reverse-engineer the process for them after they correct me, "I forgot to read through and I wrote 'the' twice. Whoops. I need to remember to... Now I should..." I also invite them to discuss and think about my mistakes: that was wrong. Why? Explain my mistake. It should have been 7x8 - why? What went wrong?

Always praise effort including the effort to apply reasoning skills. Praise is specific as much as possible. "I really like that you were thinking scientifically here and you tried to explain why the plants' leaves were yellow by... Actually, it's... but well done for..."

Over time, I expose my children to more mistakes and we break them down together. I do say "that's wrong" or "that was a mistake" but I ensure we've created a safe space to discuss each other's mistakes. For example, we will dissect something I wrote to improve it and correct mistakes and then over time, we start dissecting children's work as well.

I also model how to check for mistakes/improve work and I give children discrete amounts of time to go back and monitor their work. At that point, they know they need to go look for mistakes they might have made, check against targets, remind themselves of their learning objective etc. Checking for mistakes then becomes part of the learning process and this helps normalise mistakes as something that's expected. I notice when children correct their own mistakes or when they start being able to do things they previously couldn't.

For those who are scared of failure, I explicitly discuss how they didn't want to have a go because they were scared of making mistakes but they did and now they are able to do this thing they couldn't do before etc. For those who really struggle with this, it might be a series of baby steps, over a long time with a lot of praise for overcoming their reluctance to have a go. But I make sure the praise is genuine, specific and that expectations remain high.

For your child, might be worth finding examples of how athletes fail a lot to get to the point they do? If you haven't yet, might be worth looking up Carol Dweck too and growth mindset.

It's also worth considering introducing some open-ended tasks or problem-solving games that have multiple or no answers to give your child a hands-on experience with problems that don't have a solution as such.

Some children need more time to feel comfortable getting to this point but they do if the message is consistent and the tone accepting. Everything that happens in my classroom is learning-related. We celebrate learning, making progress and improving and we love mistakes because they push us out of our comfort zone. Making mistakes needs to be understood as an integral part of the learning process, inseparable from the process of becoming competent at something. I second engineering projects for that as they are such a great demonstration of this concept and I've seen them make a real impact in my children's learning attitude. Rosie Revere Engineer is a great book for that but might be too young for a 9 year old.
posted by mkdirusername at 2:13 AM on December 23, 2016 [21 favorites]


Have you read The Opposite of Worry by Lawrence Cohen? There are TONS of ideas in there for anxious kids. TONS. Everything from ways to talk about it to mindfulness training for kids to physical actions to take.

I particularly like the advice to playfully roughhouse every day. Not tickling but pillow fights and that kind of thing. You can't be perfect at it, and it gets out the deep big giggles that break anxiety's hold. We also use the word "practice" a lot at our house - we are practicing this thing so we can get better at it, and the only way to get better is to do it a lot and it won't come out right or the same every time and that's fine. We have lots of chances to practice getting better at [Thing].
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 3:07 AM on December 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


I know you said you have counseling lined up, but I'm wondering if you have considered art therapy. It has done wonders for my 9-year-old. We go as a family and it's been a huge help. We do art together and since we are doing it with her, she doesn't feel self-conscious or like she has to be perfect.

A couple of weeks ago, for example, we worked on origami using this kit. We let her pick what we made. She chose the frog. It was incredibly intricate and impossible to do. Plus, at the end you blow into the frogs butt to puff him up! What could be better. Out of the four of us - her therapist worked on it, too - we ended up with one semi-reasonable frog. She kept the frog and it means a lot to her.

Another thing we did was have all three of us start with a piece of paper and being a drawing. We drew for three minutes. Then we switched papers and continued each other's drawings for another three minutes. And so on. My daughter really liked it and we learned a lot along the way.

So, my suggestion is art therapy and oragami.

Good luck :)
posted by orsonet at 3:16 AM on December 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


Oh, similar but younger kid here, I am taking notes. Swimming has been good for him. We did lessons for just long enough for him to get the idea and now go every week or so to just let splashing and dunking happen. Baking works well as a team activity in part because I make mistakes too and verbalize them to model good coping. And it's messy and tactile and inexpensive and usually results in something yummy (even if it is ugly.) We have Family Dance Parties sometimes, just put on happy music and flail around like a bunch of goofballs. Hiking is hard to fail at and active; we play little games like counting trail markers or listing the animals we see.

Seeing us fail (not just telling stories about a time I made a mistake) always seems to be useful no matter the context; I couldn't start the car the other day and consciously modeled all of the tricks we tell him about while he encouraged me to relax. I've brought it up a few times as an example.
posted by tchemgrrl at 3:40 AM on December 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


My seven year old is like this. We are doing therapy which focuses on mindfulness and being non-judgmental of yourself. But as far as the failure is concerned, best thing ever has been karate. Our sensei specifically asked what we wanted her to get out of karate and we talked about failure so he gives her things that are too hard for her to practice and talks to her about persistence and trying and stuff. It's awesome.
posted by dpx.mfx at 5:17 AM on December 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


I encourage you to also examine yourselves with the help of a therapist. I was your daughter in many regards. My parents claim (and believe) they were low-pressure about grades, but in reality they were very demanding in their expectations. Kind of a words/deeds disconnect, I think. I'm not saying that's your situation, but it's worth an honest hard look.

The thing that ultimately helped me was (as an adult) living in a lower-pressure, less achievement-oriented part of the country for a while. Also figuring out what I really wanted from life and how that connected more concretely to my actions. (Like, it turns out that straight As is...not a prerequisite for most things in life.)

I do think cooking is a good activity suggestion, as it presents ample opportunity for mistakes but low barriers to recovery.
posted by the_blizz at 6:03 AM on December 23, 2016 [10 favorites]


Check to see if your town/city/area has a junior roller derby league. Along the lines of SaltySalticid's slack line suggestion, there's a lot of falling/getting back up/fun involved with learning to skate. (Several derby training programs I'm aware of have a policy that you cheer when someone falls, because that means they're trying.) Juniors teams tend to be mixed-age, so it's likely your kid will be in clinics with older kids. It might be good for her to see older/taller kids falling just as much as she is -- even more, maybe, because puberty messes with your center of gravity in a big way!
posted by coppermoss at 6:11 AM on December 23, 2016


Fairly recently there was a study that revealed that kids did better when adults praised their effort rather than their innate qualities. Eg, "you worked really hard!" Rather than "you are so talented."

There's another study where kids' outcomes improved when they were told that intelligence could be changed through work.

I was a bit like your kid, and I gravitated towards things I was good at and avoided things that didn't come easily to me. So I would suggest that you find something she isn't automatically great with and gently nudge her to work on it. Maybe something you aren't great at either, so you can model being patient with yourself and accepting difficulties and not giving up.
posted by bunderful at 7:31 AM on December 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


Maybe go the movie route? Is she old enough to see Rogue One? Without spoiling it, people fail, and yet succeed.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:37 AM on December 23, 2016


This was me, yup! I used to shame-cry if I got anything less than an A+. My mother was afraid I'd get an ulcer, she ripped up my homework once just to show me I could survive a BIG FAT ZERO. (I broke into school before hours and rewrote the essay. What kind of wackadoodle kid sneaks into class?!)

I think I would have been sensitive, self-pressuring and perfectionistic no matter what — but I'd really examine your undertones here. My parents didn't punish me for doing poorly, but they only rewarded me for doing well. Kids pick up on what isn't said. The couple of times my folks flubbed it, gosh — I've remembered those words my whole life. Anxiety fixates like that.

I wish someone had shown me a map of the brain and said, "Hey fritillary, did you know mistakes are how you learn? It's the best feedback there is! Every time you fuck up, that information is translated into neural growth. You can literally see the myelin growing thicker. When you don't stretch, don't get that good hurt, you don't grow. Doing IS thinking." Show your kid that video. Praise her persistence. Model mistakes. Play games where the *point* is to mess up! Bodycheck her ideas about success — show how human and flawed her heroes really are. "You mean Einstein didn't talk until he was 4?" "I can still be a lepidopterist if I don't get straight As?" There's a science to failure you know. Teach her the steps: how much to prep, what effort is enough, how to evaluate an error, accept defeat calmly, breathe deep, try again. Offer concrete compliments. I never trusted generic praise, it's too fallible and freely give. Who isn't nice, pretty, good or kind?

Years of unwise adult rebellions were great for me. Also cooking, drawing, writing, coding, messy science, traveling and internally competitive sports (like boxing, martial arts).
posted by fritillary at 7:38 AM on December 23, 2016 [7 favorites]


As someone who started her journey with generalized anxiety disorder around the age of 10, I would strongly encourage you to be careful not to slip in into making Fixing the Anxiety another performance metric. In order to do that, a parent must cultivate self-awareness of the difference between stated expectations and emotional, non-verbal (read: still real) needs/wants/desires they feel and project on their children without intention.

It seemed to me often as a child that to be labeled "sensitive" was something of a negative attribute, something that I needed to make up for --- so I could achieve an end goal of being less sensitive like everyone else.

Try very hard not to make/let her feel that is the end goal. Once you have the self-awareness, you will notice when things are sliding in the wrong direction and be able to correct yourself when you are contributing to it.

Also, I realize this is meta but I cannot help myself:

My mother was afraid I'd get an ulcer, she ripped up my homework once just to show me I could survive a BIG FAT ZERO.

Please do not troll your children, even if you are doing it with best intentions. This kind of behavior on the part of my parents almost did give me an ulcer.

Best to you as you raise an exceptional child.
posted by dissolvedgirl22 at 8:42 AM on December 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


Seconding rock climbing if she's at all athletically inclined. You definitely get people who focus on the results, but for the majority of those who climb with any regularity, it's all about the process. There's argot that's developed specifically around the process of working out how to do something that you can't get on your first try, and the community is super supportive of that process and excited when someone achieves something they've been working on.
posted by that's candlepin at 8:45 AM on December 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


My kid shares some of these traits. Something that's been great for her is Camp Winnarainbow. It's a sleepaway camp about clowning.

Their first class is in how to fall down. Kids get to practice failing over and over, and ultimately get the satisfaction of practicing a hard but low stakes skill (unicycle, stilts, etc) until they get competent at it. Unlike most classes for kids, this place manages to be very low pressure, probably through emphasis on silliness and explicitly embracing the falling part.

Winnarainbow is a pretty exceptional place but maybe you can track down a summer camp with a similar ethos.
posted by latkes at 8:46 AM on December 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


I also came here to suggest rock climbing as a potential option. It's something the whole family can do together and she can see and experience falling and trying again in a low pressure environment. Even people who climb at a very high technical level fall all the time, because that's what happens when you try to do difficult things!

In addition to the actual baking suggestions, watch a few episodes of the Great British Bake Off and see if it might be helpful. The bakers all cheer each other on, as do Mel and Sue, and the judges always find something positive to say about even the most catastrophic baking disasters.
posted by athenasbanquet at 11:12 AM on December 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have three teens. All are similar, though they are boys. ADHD of some sort, perfectionists, by the rules, or afraid to fail.. they all have some aspect of what you're talking about.

Key is that she is 9. So, don't worry about her breaking just yet.

Legos are a great hobby/way to involve the mind.

Soccer is a great sport.. finding the right coach, the right program, though is trial and error. There's always the option for you to be the coach, too. Programs are always looking for parents to take up an F license and coach a team.

I like the baking idea.

Also, let's put in context. My now-fairly-well-adjusted middle child who is now 16.. up until, probably 6th grade.. any change in any plan or schedule would end up with him throwing an utter crazy-fit.. kicking legs, on the floor, screaming, inconsolable, and uncontrollable.

I could tell, as words came out of my mouth that he was going to suddenly go bonkers for no reason whatsoever.

I say this for you because, well, now he doesn't do that anymore. But it was a long 5 or so years where, no matter where we were - out at dinner, home along, at a family's house, or even his friends...

Nurture, support, you know your own kid better than you think. Don't freak out, though, and go totally overboard bonkers. But just be there and visible and involved. And always gentle nudging into the right thing. And defend your kid, Go to bat for them. Go do something about that mean girl. Be THAT parent. Because no one else if going to do that for your kid, but they're going to do it for their own little brat.
posted by rich at 2:09 PM on December 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


Not to be a bummer but I am the care free, non-perfectionist middle child between two anxious, perfectionist siblings. My mom did all the things mentioned here to help them work through their anxieties, reassuring them, praising effort vice outcomes, explaining that failure is necessary and important, etc. I was always the only one who enjoyed team sports, or didn't feel overwhelmed by criticism. Fast forward fifteen years and my mom now has three adult children, two of whom are still plagued by anxiety and self-doubt despite their successes. I am starting to believe we just come out of the oven the way we are.

But she would sing us Paul Simon's "Loves Me Like A Rock" pretty often and that was so great.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 9:56 PM on December 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


This sounds like me as a kid. First up? It almost certainly turns out okay. :)

1. I might try meditation, specifically something like Jon Kabat-Zinn's "mindfulness based stress reduction", which is fully science-based and not some new-agey weirdness. Meditation is practice at focusing yourself, and yeah, that helps quite a bit.

2. Exercise of any type will help. If soccer and team based sports don't do it, I'm wondering if something like cross-country (just running!) would work well. Rock climbing also comes to mind, as it's as solitary as you want it to be, and really quite safe.

3. I used to teach this one at Q&A panels for a large tech company. Everyone fails. All the damn time. You just learn to fail with grace, and the less failure gets you down, the faster you can try again. Again, it's a learned skill to fail with grace, and everyone stinks at it at one time or another, but with practice, that gets way better. Go do a web search for "famous people failing", or something like that, to show some amazing examples.

JK Rowling, Vera Wang, Oprah, Dr Seuss, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and honestly *most* famous people... had to learn to fail before doing much else. :)
posted by talldean at 2:28 PM on December 25, 2016


You come across in your follow up comment as someone with a high need to signal approval. I think this is part of the problem. Signalling constantly that you Approve! implies that your approval is terribly important and this has ancillary effects where social approval generally gets over valued.

I did the opposite with my kids. I actively framed things as "This is just my opinion and you do not need to agree, feel free to prove me wrong, it is your life." And since mom was going to love them and accept them even if she didn't agree or approve, approval generally went way, way down in value in their eyes.

My sons are not real vulnerable to mean girls crap because your opinion about them isn't all that important in their eyes. Most mean girls crap fails if you can't be arsed to care what they think.

So, I think your desire to baby her and make her feel good about herself and all that is part of the problem. I think you need to figure out how to signal that she is perfectably acceptable right here, right now, imperfections and all and she in no way needs to improve. She will still be loved and fed and tucked into bed and all that, good, bad, or indifferent. Because that is just what mom's do and it has nothing to do with her in any way measuring up.

Find role models of successful people like her. Plenty of "neurotic" people have been talented, successful writers, actresses etc. I had my oldest son read books by/about Temple Grandin. She didn't fix her autism. She did learn to live successfully, weirdness and all. She is still autistic and she's fine.

When my kids were going through this, we put quotes from Thomas Edison up on the wall, stuff like "I have not failed. I have learned 5000 ways not to make a lightbulb."
posted by Michele in California at 3:20 PM on December 25, 2016


I will add that a great place to start can be with "Parenting is a learn on the job situation and that means sometimes you make mistakes. I have been dong this badly and I am not going to do this anymore because it is a bad practice." That was one of the best things I did as a parent. It earned their trust and modeled how to accept failure and learn and grow and move on.
posted by Michele in California at 3:25 PM on December 25, 2016


Sounds very much like my son, who has had more than his fair share of issues.

What we see is a juxtaposition of being able to get most things immediately vs the things that don't come immediately. What he gets instantly he considers trivial and beneath him, what he doesn't get is clearly impossible.

Very often he has problems with things that require fine motor like writing or drawing. He was very quick to point out the irony in the writing program "Handwriting Without Tears" when it was causing him a great deal of tears.

So what do you do?
Unfortunately, there is no single thing that will work for your child on any given day and it's not clear that what you are trying is effective.

Model constructive failure. "Oh well." is a useful phrase for that especially paired with "I guess I'll try that again."
Draw analogies to what she does practice at. My son sees right through this most days and bitches us out for it. "It's not the same, dad!"
Model practice and point out that you're practicing not just doing.
Look for alternative paths. Common core multiplication was driving my son up a wall. We spoke to his teacher and asked if he couldn't just use multiplication tables? He had to fill 1 or 2 out a night for a couple weeks and then he had it down. The first few were rough and needed a lot of coaching, but he started to get the patterns that arise. Praised his effort, reflected on the success of practice.
As far as emotions are concerned - yeah, that. The emotions come with a vast amount of intensity. It's rough because he tries to take us along on his roller coaster rides and will escalate until we do.
For anger, we've put in a reward plan that works like this:
0. Determine a Very Large Value Goal (for my son, it's a Wii U)
1. If he has a day with no escalation, we put $4 into a jar. This is NOT his money. It is for a big reward.
2. If he escalates and successfully deescalates on his own, he gets $1/deescalation, up to 3 max
3. If he escalates to violence or threat of violence, he loses all media for 24 hours1. If this gets instituted, it happens after the storm has passed, not during. We were told that would help keep the escalation in check.
4. Foul or insulting language is penalized at 25 cents per and it comes from HIS money, not the jar.
5. In order to get the reward, he has to start the conversation at dinner and participate constructively. No reflection? No reward.
6. Periodically count up the money together.

1 We had noticed that he was using as much screen time as he could and that he was starting to act like a junkie trying to figure out how to get his next hit. We had a long painful emotional conversation that we were going to start reducing his screen time and have it down to well under 2 hours/day. Introducing him to the Harry Potter books and How To Train Your Dragon helped there.

Do you have the opposition too? That's a real fun one. I can tell his sister to "Please go put your clothes away" and she will do so gracefully and politely. The same sentence is as likely as not in induce a "dig in and die on that hill before I comply" response. With other children, speaking plainly is necessary for the directness and lack of subtlety: "Bus will be here in 5 minutes. Time to put on socks and shoes." For him, it's "It's 7:45, what do you think you need to do now?" When it was his idea and not a command, he's more likely to do what needs to be done in a timely manner.
posted by plinth at 4:59 AM on December 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


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