Helping a Young Perfectionist Try Something New

Aaron is a 9-year-old boy who often refuses to leave the house for fun family outings without an argument. He is also frequently discouraged by math and easily overwhelmed when playing on his basketball team even though he does well when he participates.

“My son didn’t want to do anything, I was tired of not pushing him,” his dad, Ruben, explained to me.

On a visit to some close relatives who live outside New York City, Ruben and his wife, Sarah, agreed to try a strategy to help tackle the problem.

“I never thought getting him moving would be easy,” Ruben added, “I knew there was going to be upset involved.”

“We took him ice skating,” he continued, “something he wasn’t eager to do. Our logic was that if he tried ice skating and enjoyed himself the experience could help him be less resistant to other things as well.”

Sarah and Ruben took Aaron to a small, family friendly rink near where they were staying, a supportive environment to give things a try.

“Aaron can be a real perfectionist,” Ruben explained, “I talk to him all the time about “easing up” telling him that no one needs to be perfect,” he said.” “I think my words often fall on deaf ears.”

“We thought that maybe learning something new in a safe and supportive environment,” he continued, “might be a good way to help him be more relaxed about mistakes.”

Mom and dad told Aaron about their idea beforehand, were not surprised by his barrage of complaints before they left and calmly stuck to their plan.

Ruben and Sarah were not very good at skating but they both put on skates to keep Aaron company. Luckily this rink also had metal supports for new skaters making the chances of falling and feeling frustrated and/or humiliated (emotions Aaron felt frequently) less likely.

Aaron made it 1/4 around the rink, fell down, and started getting mad. Mom and dad decided to keep skating, enjoying themselves as they stumbled along paying minimal attention to Aaron’s bad mood. In a few minutes Aaron stormed off the ice. Deciding to give him some time by himself to calm down, it took a fair amount of Ruben’s will power to stay relaxed and calm as he watched his son leave.

The parents continued to skate and 10 minutes later they spotted Aaron getting back on the ice. Being careful not to over react (sometimes children appreciate their parents quiet rather than demonstrative support) mom and dad kept skating, helping Aaron whenever he seemed able to accept their assistance without resistance.

Aaron was never happy during the first excursion but managed to keep trying in spite of multiple mishaps along the way.

By now the family has returned to the rink several times. Aaron hasn’t given up and the whole family is getting better at skating. Aaron still can be cranky about going but his parents are hopeful that the family support he is receiving at the rink will ultimately increase their son’s confidence and improve his tolerance of the bumps that happen on the road to achieving goals. They are happy to report that his willingness to participate in basketball has started to improve.