Sunday, October 2, 2011

Chloe the perfectionist

This morning Chloe and I made banana oatmeal pancakes for Mommy (who was still sleeping) and Emily (who was entertaining herself by cruising along the furniture). Chloe loves to help out in the kitchen. We make everything from cereal to muffins to lunches for daycare together. I wouldn't say that her help speeds up the process exactly, but it sure makes it more interesting.

So, fast forward half an hour and Mommy, Daddy, Chloe, and Emily are all sitting down eating our pancakes when Chloe asks for another. "Chloe," I say, "finish up the last few pieces of that one first please." "But I don't want it," she says.

Daddy: Chloe, what's wrong with the pancake on your plate? Do you not like the chunks of banana?

Chloe: No, I don't like the banana.

Daddy, laughing: Well Chloe, you'll have to mush up the banana better next time.

A few minutes pass before Chloe speaks up again. "I don't want to make pancakes anymore," she says. "What, Chloe?" "I don't want to make pancakes again because I don't mash the bananas right."

Julie and I quickly assured her that she mashed the bananas just fine, and that Daddy actually likes the chunks. "It's just a taste preference Chloe. If you don't want chunks, you need to mash more. You didn't do anything wrong."

This seemed to allay her concerns for the time being, but not ours. This wasn't the first time Chloe had shown a strong tendency to internalize what she's told and to blame herself when something doesn't go right. She places a lot of responsibility and expectations on her shoulders, and takes most criticism to heart. She doesn't allow herself room for error, doesn't just shake things off very well.

I could give countless other examples of the unreasonable expectations she puts on herself and about her tendency to internalize everything (she won't draw in front of Mommy, for example, because she can't stay in the lines). I'm not sure where she gets it from, and it naturally occurs to me and to Julie that perhaps we're putting too many expectations on her. But I don't think we are. We're not trying to push her towards competition. We just want her to explore, to be a kid. We're not asking her to be anyone but herself... or are we?

One of the byproducts, perhaps, of having a high-needs child - an intense, active little girl, is that we must voice our expectations more often - not expectations of perfection or high-achievement, but the very basic of expectations for acceptable behavior, such as not throwing tantrums, not attacking a dog twice her size, going to bed and getting up at a reasonable hour without hysterics.

All of these things must be taught. It's our job to ensure she understands basic social expectations so that she can get along in the world. But for Chloe these expectations are more difficult to meet than for many other children. And so we voice our expectations more often and more forcefully.  The result could be that she feels as though she doesn't meet our expectations as often as she or we would like.

Julie and I have been talking about strategies for helping to increase Chloe's confidence while acknowledging that there are times - more than we'd like, when we have to express our expectations for certain behaviors. We've especially been focusing on telling Chloe when we make mistakes and apologizing to her when we haven't met her expectations.  

Fast forward to later on the pancake day. Chloe is whining and crying for a glass of milk. I keep telling her that she'll have to ask nicely. Finally, I loose my patience and raise my voice a bit. "Chloe, you have to stop whining. There's no reason for you to be whining and crying all the time. You know what you need to do if you'd like some milk."

I hate when I do this, because it never helps, and of course she started crying all the more. I lead her over to the couch so we could sit together. She cried for another minute and then turned to me and said, "Daddy, sniff sniff, I was whining because I was frustrated" (this is a term she's been using lately to express when she's not able to bring her emotions under control). "I know, honey," I say. "Thank you for telling me. Listen Chloe, Daddy shouldn't have gotten angry. It was a mistake. I was frustrated too. I shouldn't have gotten mad. I'm sorry honey for getting mad at you. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes." "Yeah," said Chloe, "everyone makes mistakes sometimes."