ADHD and Perfectionism – Stuck In The Small Details

The stereotypical child with ADHD races through homework without worrying about follow through and details. While there is some truth to that perception, there are also many students with ADHD who are perfectionists. These kids are trying their best to do well on any given assignment, but they often get bogged down in the smallest of details, making it virtually impossible to complete a task.

Often the perfectionism shows up as an inability to begin an assignment. When asked to write a paragraph, many kids with ADHD become overwhelmed at the sight of a blank piece of paper. They will perseverate about writing the first sentence and work on this task for a long period of time. Teachers often notice kids with ADHD will write a sentence, and then erase it, and then continue to write and erase, over and over. This behavior is stressful and time consuming for a student. It is also one factor that explains why students with ADHD often do not complete assignments on time.

Perfectionism can also show up in math class. Some students will perseverate over making sure they write their numbers in perfect columns. Math teachers often observe students write an answer down only to erase it, and then write and erase again, until the worksheet is torn.

It is understandable why students with ADHD and perfectionism become frustrated and overwhelmed with writing and math assignments. In addition, many kids with ADHD also tend to have anxiety. The end result: needing to complete a task perfectly becomes overwhelming which then leads to an emotional meltdown.

Parents can help their child handle their need for perfection by modeling that it is okay for things not to be perfect. The following strategies may be of help:

1.) Parents can try not to tell their child to “just do their best.” The word “best” is often a trigger for kids who feel the need to be perfect. Instead, parents can praise a good effort rather than the results.

2.) Parents can discuss the idea of “good enough.” For example, a surgeon is someone who needs to focus on small details during a surgery. But there are many more instances where it is better to complete a job in a “good enough” fashion than to never finish due to obsessing over minor details.  

3.) Give perspective. For example, you can explain that time spent on a history project may be well spent but spending hours on making handmade Valentines with painstaking details may not be necessary.

4.) Partner with your child’s teacher. Meet with the teacher to discuss the situation and ask the teacher to remind your child that making mistakes is part of learning.

Intense perfectionism may be a sign of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Parents should trust their instincts about whether or not their child’s perfectionism is typical. If your child’s perfectionism seems extreme to the point that it is taking a toll on your child and your family’s everyday life, this may be an issue that should be addressed by a mental health professional.

If you are worried about your child’s perfectionism, let’s talk about it. I am here to help! Please call me at 310-849-6751 or send me an email at jerirochman.jd.ms@gmail.com

Best,                                                                                                                                                                                  Jeri