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Perfectionism in Gifted Students


Many believe perfectionism is a typical behavior for high-achieving students in general; however, it becomes concerning when it adversely affects a child’s well-being. Taking a look at perfectionism in gifted students, we see it manifest as competitive tendencies, prioritizing achievement over socialization, and avoiding activities perceived as potential failures. It often relates to self-esteem issues arising from both internal and external expectations of constant giftedness in every subject. 

While the debate on positive and negative aspects of perfectionism persists, it’s important to note the intense pressure gifted students face due to their identification as “the smart students” if they are not in a learning environment specifically designed to support their development, such as Davidson Academy. 

Once educators and parents understand the signs of this characteristic, how to support gifted students in an academic setting, and the benefits of a school tailored to these children, there will be greater opportunities for fostering a positive culture that nurtures the unique needs of gifted students.

Signs of Perfectionism in Gifted Students

Educators need to understand what perfectionism is and how to spot it in their classrooms. Here are key identifiers if a gifted student is struggling with this characteristic:

  • How they respond to competition (i.e., “I have to be the best!”)
  • How they respond to compliments (i.e., “Thanks, I guess, but I could’ve done so much better.”)
  • Negative self-talk and low self-esteem
  • Fear or anxiety around assignments that have already been turned in
  • Sensitivity to criticism while being overly critical of themselves
  • Procrastination (i.e., trouble starting an assignment)
  • Intense attention to detail (i.e., spending too much time to answer the first few questions on an exam)

Of course, not every gifted student who exhibits perfectionism will show all of these signs. However, if you notice any of these habits occurring regularly, it’s worth starting a conversation with the individual to see how they’re feeling and how you might be able to support them.

Noticing certain patterns of perfectionism in gifted students can prevent underachievement. For example, if a student is worried their science project isn’t good enough, they will not submit the work because it isn’t perfect. This could lead to poor or failing grades. 

Now that you’re aware of the most common signs of perfectionism in gifted students, let us focus on how we can help these individuals thrive while learning.

How to Support Gifted Students with Perfectionism in the Classroom

As noted in the key indicators, perfectionism often stems from poor self-esteem. Mistakes are viewed as reflections of personal flaws, creating a fear of not being accepted. While encouraging gifted students to ease their concerns about outcomes is vital to their well-being and academic success, teachers may find it challenging to address the underlying anxiety.

Help Them Change Their Internal Dialogue

When a gifted student’s perfectionism is no longer serving as a motivator, but as a detriment to their education, they’re likely feeling bogged down by stress, anxiety, frustration, and sadness. You have the opportunity to teach them how to transform a negative thought into a positive one. After all, their worth extends beyond grades and performance alone.
Here’s an example scenario: If a student is placing unnecessary pressure on themselves to exceed expectations (i.e., ”I have to get this essay perfectly the first time or else”), you can help them shift their mindset to something that reinforces their knowledge and self-confidence (i.e., “I know the material and am writing this essay to the best of my ability.”).

Make Sure They Are in the Right Learning Environment

If you are a staff member or educator in a traditional school setting that does not have a specific program for gifted students, guide them to one that does. Institutions like Davidson Academy offer specific curricula built around the gifted student’s abilities and interests instead of their age. Once you understand the student’s general academic motivations and shortcomings in their current classroom, consider meeting with them and their parents to discuss alternative schools. Their parents may be unaware of their child’s perfectionism impacting their education as well as where else they could go. 

Learn more about how to choose the right school for your gifted child.

Staff and educators in a school for gifted students, on the other hand, should be on the lookout for whether or not individuals are placed in the correct class. Again, it’s important to make sure their skill level is what determines their placement instead of their age. This ensures that gifted students are positively challenged by classwork.

Benefits of the Davidson Academy

The Davidson Academy prioritizes the social and emotional well-being of students through a comprehensive approach integrated into our curriculum. We offer regular one-on-one check-ins with students as well as mindfulness and stress relief techniques that can be used in the classroom to help curb perfectionism. 

In addition to offering social and emotional support services, our institution groups gifted students by ability rather than age. This helps them thrive in the classroom. Rather than feeling bored or isolated, they can feel properly challenged and work with like-minded individuals. 

Our classroom sizes are small—up to 10 students on average per faculty member—to build a sense of community. This has been shown to boost participation, confidence, teacher-student engagement, and student-to-student relationships. 

Young Scholars Program

Parents may also want to consider the Young Scholars program. The program is free to profoundly gifted students and their families and gives them the opportunity to connect and engage in a community that understands their needs. Once accepted, parents and students have access to a range of benefits and family services to support them.

In Conclusion

Recognizing and addressing perfectionism in gifted students is important in preventing underachievement, ensuring their academic success, and building their self-confidence. By fostering a positive culture that nurtures the unique needs of gifted students as well as understands the signs of perfectionism, we can ensure gifted students thrive emotionally and academically.

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