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Thursday, July 01, 2010  

Performance Anxiety

For some time now, M. Edium has displayed one of the classic traits of a perfectionist: a reluctance to do anything at all.

This manifested at about the time he changed schools. Montessori is all about learning by doing, or so I understand. So for a while we were worried that he wasn't learning anything. The only way a teacher could get him to do an activity was if he was sure he could do it perfectly. He didn't want anybody to see him messing up. So for a while there, we'd practice at home. Which is of course an ideal use of our tuition money -- that is, to have a place to go where he can show off all the stuff he's learning at home.

But we knew he'd get over it, and we were right. Or I'm sure we will be at some point in the near future now that he's been at that school for a little over two years.

This is not to say that he completely sits everything out. As one of his teachers informed us at the last parents' night, he can do everything, which is not the same as saying that he will do everything. In fact, another of his teachers tells us it's one of the worst cases of stage fright he's ever seen from one of the most capable kids. Even during show and tell, when he never fails to bring something to share, he doesn't so much "tell" as "whisper to Mr. N. so he can tell the class about it in his own voice."

Even at his graduation, when it came time for him to come up and receive his diploma, he just wouldn't move when his name was called. The only person in history to boycott his own commencement.

Trash and I are wondering how to help M. Edium get over it. The only thing he still won't do is read to the class. A few weeks ago, I went in one morning and sat with him while he read to the class for the first time. He had them at first, but it took so long to coax his voice above a shy whisper that by the time he was speaking more audibly -- and even that was a library voice at best -- it was hard for those still listening to hear. And then he conned me into reading a book. I do have to admit, it's kind of a tough room.

But I think maybe I'm close to a solution: force him to perform in front of a large audience. I'll set up a laptop on the table and inform him that the webcam is livecasting to thousands of people. Then I'll make him read a story, do some gymnastics, sew a button on a shirt, and perform some extemporaneous standup comedy no matter how much he cries.

Of course I don't actually know how to do a livecast, or if such a thing even exists. Plus none of our laptops have webcams. But he doesn't know that.

All I need from you is to watch this space for when I'm going to make him do it. Then post your feedback in the comments as though you really saw it happen.

Please be supportive, but honest. It's the only way he's going to learn.

posted by M. Giant 9:37 PM 3 comments

3 Comments:

Hey, just a quick thought: you might look around to see if there are any of those kids-reading-to-dogs programs in your area, many of which are sponsored by local libraries (you can also check the Delta Society's website, which I think has links to regional programs.) My dog is in training right now to be able to do that someday, and the program itself is awesome: for whatever reason, kids often find dogs to be a good, nonjudgmental audience for reading out loud, and the programs begin with just kid and dog and gradually work up to kid/dog/group of kids, kid/dog/mixed group of kids and adults. The programs are phenomenally successful at building the confidence of timid readers.

By Anonymous Kelsey, at July 1, 2010 at 10:57 PM  

I'm a former child perfectionist, now adult perfectionist, with many perfectionist nieces and nephews. You may already be doing this, but I've found that praising the kids for TRYING rather than ACHIEVING has gone a long way to getting them over their inertia. One of my cousins switched to recognizing honest, hard-fought attempts as well as successes, and we're finding that her son is much more willing to try in situations where it's not 150% certain that he'll succeed. I LOVE what Kelsey's suggested -- what a brilliant idea!

By Anonymous Catherine, at July 2, 2010 at 8:34 AM  

Another effective drug treatment is Buspirone which is prescribed in chronic cases. All these drugs are mainly short-term treatment to relieve the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorders.

By Anonymous K. Lonopin, at July 9, 2010 at 12:47 AM  

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