Sophie was at a grown-up dinner party, leaning in to blow out the candles for the third time. The grown-ups were enjoying her candle-joy, but then someone told her, “Oh, honey, be careful not to get your face too close to the flame.” Sophie’s eyes welled up with silent tears and her whole body shook, as she sat back on her chair and refused to speak for ten minutes.
The next day, at the park, when an older girl told her to be careful on the bars, Sophie lay herself down, trying to bury herself, quietly, in the ground.
It happened again when her grandmother gently asked her not to chase the dog. None of these were harsh scoldings, at all, they were more like loving offerings of information. “That dog lived with some scary people before he lived with me, so he still gets easily scared,” Grandma told Sophie. And Sophie felt badly for more than an hour.
I have a perfectionist child.
She is incredibly sensitive, even sometimes with people whom she’s used to — like me, Ben, or her daycare teacher. This isn’t a normal tantrum from not getting her way. This scares me more than a loud tantrum. Sophie hides her face and hides her tears and just retreats into herself, so deeply hurt at not being absolutely perfect. It makes me worry that Sophie may eventually develop anorexia, or ulcers, or some of the many other stresses of perfectionist girls.
It’s okay, I tell her. No one’s perfect, I tell her. And then I don’t know what else to do except hug her.