How to Use Personality to Overcome Perfectionism in Your Homeschool
Perfectionism is an obstacle to getting more done and certainly to enjoying your homeschooling. In today’s episode, I will discuss how understanding your own and your kids’ personality can help you get past perfectionism and on to enjoying your homeschool journey again.
Before I dive in, I want to encourage you to follow my Psychowith6 page on Facebook. There I will be sharing regular Facebook Live videos where I can continue you to provide you with homeschool sanity from the comfort of your couch. I can also talk with you in the comments and get to know you, and that something I love to do.
Perfectionism can look different depending on your personality. In fact, you may not even recognize your struggle as perfectionism with some personalities. There are four personality types that I will discuss in terms of perfectionism.
Perfectionism in the Sanguine Personality
The first personality type is the Sanguine. This fun-loving personality is the least likely to have a problem with perfectionism, you may think, as you observe a messy room or school space. But it is perfectionism that contributes to the mess. Sanguines tend to believe that they must have devoted periods of time to do every bit of the work or they can’t even get started. If the Sanguine doesn’t have all the tools and ideas and the time, she will move on to something that seems a lot more fun.
To help you or your Sanguine child overcome perfectionism, turn getting started into a game. In my book A Year of Living Productively, I discuss the randomized task list and Autofocus as approaches that can help us take action without the perfect circumstances and without the chance to finish the work. The idea is that even doing a little on a selected task counts. We can train ourselves and our kids that all we expect is for them to get started. That might mean getting out the calculator or decluttering five expired food items from the pantry. As mom, you can choose one small organizing task each day in your Organized Homeschool Life planner to develop the organizing habit apart from perfectionism.
When I was a child, I believed that a clean room included organized dresser drawers. Invariably, that’s where I would start. I would get lost in the items in my drawers and my room would end up looking messier than it had when I started. With a child like this, you want to clarify what you want done. Had my mother said “Get your bed made and everything off the floor put away,” I might have had better luck.
The Sanguine would do well to reflect on Philippians 1:6. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Sanguines tend to feel a lot of shame about their imperfection and avoid it. But God is at work in us, imperfect as we are.
Perfectionism and the Choleric Personality
The Choleric personality likes to have control. If the Choleric doesn’t get the results and especially the cooperation she expects, she may give up. If your child doesn’t consistently get his work done or if the kids balk at starting school or if a curriculum you purchased isn’t helping you meet your goals, you may be tempted to throw out the whole notion of homeschooling.
If you have a high-control, choleric child, the curriculum is confusing, the teacher of your online class isn’t engaging, or there is no direct correlation between the work and your child’s goals, your child may refuse to do any of it. The source of perfectionism for the Choleric is desire for control.
If you’re a Choleric parent, you may think the solution is to either quit homeschooling or to crack down with strict discipline on your choleric child. But neither of these approaches may be best. Instead, consider giving your child some control. Perhaps the curriculum could be changed or modified. Perhaps the class could be dropped or done with less focus. Perhaps you could give your child choice over when work could be completed or even how much of it seems reasonable to do.
My Choleric child was told he only had to do enough exercises in his language arts workbook to understand the concepts. So to exercise control, he completed every single one and enjoyed showing me that he did so.
Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” While desire for control can be a blessing, it has its limits. To overcome perfectionism, Cholerics must respect those limits.
Perfectionism and the Melancholy Personality
The Melancholy is the personality we most often think of with respect to perfectionism. The desire for perfectionism is fundamental to this personality, though we all crave perfection and completeness. We would love for life to be as God originally intended.
The Melancholy personality often takes others’ failures to do things perfectly as a personal attack. The towel that isn’t put back on the rack neatly or the letters that aren’t formed correctly are thoughtless and inconsiderate. Of course, this is not case–even if you’ve told them and told them. As we’ve already determined, others don’t necessarily share our motivation for acting as they do.
The Melancholy’s desire for completion should be honored when possible. Follow the schedule when you can. If that’s impossible, make it a realistic routine instead. Also give your Melancholy child permission to redo work or tests to get 100%. This permission helps immensely with perfectionism.
If you’re a Melancholy parent, I encourage you to spend time in hobbies or projects that can be completed. Homeschooling and parenting are never ending. Finishing something is very rewarding to a melancholy and other personalities, too.
Put boundaries around perfectionism. Perfectionism in the Melancholy may be related to anxiety. You’ll want to listen to the episode I did on anxiety if that’s an issue for you. Give your child a number of attempts or a time limit and then have her recognize the anxious thoughts that come afterward. Doing some truth journaling or discussion of these thoughts can be helpful. If the thought is, “If the handwriting isn’t perfect, then I’m a bad student,” have your child challenge that thought with truth. Is that really true? Plenty of doctors’ success in school would argue otherwise. And what does it mean if you’re a bad student? You’re not valuable? Einstein’s life contradicts that notion.
1 John 4:12 says, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” Melancholies want to keep relationships primary, not perfect work. After all, we could not be saved if God expected perfection in us apart from His Son.
Perfectionism and the Phlegmatic Personality
The Phlegmatic’s perfectionism is often motivated by a desire for peace. If a Phlegmatic fears disappointment or anger with an imperfect job, he will procrastinate. This is especially true with decisions.
My son kept putting off making a decision about continuing piano lessons. He wanted to make the perfect decision and not upset me or the piano teacher. I persisted in telling him that I would not be unhappy either way, but that he had to make the decision. He chose not to continue and I could see him holding his breath to see my reaction. I complimented him on making a decision. He did not take piano lessons again but taught himself after learning guitar.
Phlegmatics need reassurance that they will have our respect after doing a job or making a decision imperfectly. Otherwise anxiety will keep them stuck. Make sure that compliments far outweigh constructive criticism. I find this to be an issue with kids’ writing in particular.
Isaiah 41:10 says, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Even when we make the wrong choice, God is with us and working all things together for our good.
Make sure to give Phlegmatics guilt-free leisure time. If they cannot have couch potato time without us making them feel lazy, they will struggle to get their work done. If you’re struggling to get your work done, make sure you give yourself guilt-free leisure time, too. I like to plan it as my reward each day.
The solution to perfectionism isn’t one-size-fits-all. The source of it is often rooted in personality and so are the strategies for overcoming it.
Join me next time as we discuss what every homeschooler needs to know about science.
Have a happy homeschool week!