My 5 year old niece who is 'kind of' smart, (i.e. was playing solitaire online before her 3rd birthday and is now doing 4 digit addition/subtraction and multiplication up to 5's; and reads chapter books,etc.), has problems being corrected. She had a 'meltdown' last week when she got 1 (ONE) problem of 45 wrong (>,<,= worksheet)! She loves to read and is self-motivated to do math, writing, etc. However, she has serious issues whenever she's corrected.

Is there some relationship between 'smart' kids and emotional dysfunction, for want of a much better term?


  • Hi Marie, and welcome to the site! This is a good question. I've taken the liberty of changing the title a bit, and adding the primary-schooler and gifted tags. If you disagree with those changes (say, for example, you feel pre-schooler would be more appropriate than primary-schooler), feel free to edit them, or even rollback to your original version.
    – user420
    Jan 6, 2012 at 14:13
  • The 'gifted' thing is a big issue in my family. No one in our family thinks she is gifted, including her mom. We believe that she was taught and she learned. But gifted for us is a 5 year old doing calculus, writing operas or designing robots, which she most certainly isn't doing! She's in Kindergarten, so I guess that classifies her as 'primary-schooler'. Thanks.
    – Marie
    Jan 6, 2012 at 15:10
  • Many adults have issues with constructive criticism. I can't imagine a 5 year old that WOULDN'T have issues with criticism. This seems perfectly normal for a 5 year old.
    – DA01
    Jan 6, 2012 at 15:26
  • 5
    "But gifted for us is a 5 year old doing calculus" this is something else you should look into. In the US, gifted is typically defined as a student who falls outside the norms in various areas of knowledge. They can test for this fairly easily. It's not just an opinion.
    – DA01
    Jan 6, 2012 at 15:27
  • 2
    marie... 'gifted' is a defined, testable tag used by school districts. It's used to simply offer students that can benefit from it, some additional challenges. Maybe that's not the best term for it, but it's what they use.
    – DA01
    Jan 6, 2012 at 22:17

7 Answers 7


Yes, there is a relationship between being very advanced and perfectionism, especially in the first child. she is used to getting everything correct so when she doesn't it is frusterating. What I did with my child is as follows.
I made mistakes (sometimes on purpose) and narrated as I corrected myself and sometimes even laughed at myself ensuring that she understood even mommies make mistakes. I stressed the ones she got right, and told her that she did not have to correct the one she got wrong. I encouraged her to do other things as well (chess is good, as it used the skills she knows but teaches her how to loose). She SHOULD NOT only be doing academics, even if that is what she enjoys. We make fun of her when she is doing way advanced things telling her she knows too much and needs to watch more TV (this only works with a certain type of kid).

Good luck. We were lucky this year to have a teacher that dealt with this very well and has taught her to accept criticism.

  • Her mom did tell her that even she makes mistakes at work. Hopefully that will help. Thanks for the suggestions. Regarding the classroom, she receives nothing that's challenging. For example, homework yesterday was to write the numbers 11-19 and draw objects to show the correct number. (she actually laughed when she showed it to me) ~sigh~
    – Marie
    Jan 6, 2012 at 17:22
  • 3
    @Marie try making mistakes IN FRONT of her, so you can demonstrate how you deal with it. Also, speak to the teacher about giving differentiated homework, so she will be challenged, if she is not challenged the problem will continue as she will continue to always be right. Jan 6, 2012 at 17:31
  • The teacher promised to do so last term, but didn't. My sister is afraid of being the annoying parent so she hasn't said anything. I told her not to worry, as it's not as if my niece is lagging.
    – Marie
    Jan 6, 2012 at 17:56
  • @Marie Worry, teaching bad school habits at a young age can be difficult to overcome and the teacher is doing that. Either insist the teacher does it or go to admin. This is very important no matter how advanced the child it. Jan 6, 2012 at 17:58
  • +1 -- Having her see others make mistakes and recover from them is important, particularly people that she looks up to as being "smarter than her."
    – afrazier
    Jan 6, 2012 at 18:04

Your story reminds me one of typical case with smart kids that you can have with smart kids that are being told they are smart all the time. I don't say it is your case, but this answer may help people in the same situation: kids refuses bad judgement of their performance or become perfectionist (perfectionism can become a pathology).

To illustrate why it is a problem, let's take the opposite: Someone tells his kid all the time he sucks. Even in front of other people. What happens is classic: the kid tend to start to believing it. He really thinks he sucks. This (irrational) feeling will follow him for the rest of their life. He modeled his kid to have very bad self-esteem. This will potentially lead to psychological problems in the future such as depression or anxiety.

Telling your kids all the time he is so smart (or worse, smarter than the others), may lead to the same type of problems: too high self-esteem. This leads to the behavior you describe. The real problem with that, is that your kid is going to face failure. This is where your kid will suffer. A lot.

Another problem you could face is "temporary" smart kids. They are just a bit advanced on their cognitive abilities by having more myelin stealth than average. That stabilizes at age of 12. A kid can be smarter at a certain age, then stabilize at another... biologically.

So what to do? Robin summarize it pretty well in one article on the subject he wrotes.

The key to praise is specificity and encouragement of effort, rather than the token, "Great job, Timmy! You are so smart!". Instead, a teacher may say, "I noticed you really thought about how you were going to construct that paragraph, Timmy," or "Look at the vibrant colors in that picture. I notice how precise your strokes are."

The later examples encourages the child to keep up the effort and work toward their goal rather than stopping the process because their work is already great. What is the motivation for the child to continue a project if an authority figure has already given it the thumbs up?


Dealing with emotional intensity

'Gifted' children often experience intense emotions

So, the linked article suggests helping the child scale-out their reactions. It says to sit down with the child, and have them write a number from 1 to 10 on things that could happen, with 10 being the worst thing that could ever happen, and 1 being not so bad:

  • Losing the 'Tangled' DVD
  • Daddy forgetting to water the plants and all the plants dying
  • Falling down from your bike and scraping your knee
  • Getting a math problem wrong

So it's supposed to help the child scale out their reactions, to be proportional to the thing they are experiencing.

Using tact when correcting

So the other question is how are you correcting her? I think you need to treat her like a Senior Engineer - ie be very tactful if she's overreacting.

Other than that, you actually don't need to correct her. You just need to point out that "you don't think something is right", and suggest which one. Let her find the error. And if she asks "why isn't it right?" you can then respond with ("1234 + 1234 is 2468, I believe.")

Accepting that sometimes you won't get something

While aiming for perfection is great, the reality is you won't hit the ball every time. Sometimes children get discouraged, and I learned the following kind of works:

* (cheerful tone) Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don't.
  • + 1 for You just need to point out that "you don't think something is right", and suggest which one.
    – user6365
    Jan 9, 2014 at 4:44

Yes, there is a higher occurence of perfectionistic tendencies amongst gifted children. However, causality is not well established. It may be an intrinsic tendency, or it may arise out of the higher expectations parents and teachers have of their gifted children - my personal belief is that it probably isn't one or the other, but some combination of both.

There are already some great answers here, so I just want to add that with my own (advanced and perfectionistic child - who is also an only child) as well as with the gifted adolescents I had in my classrooms, I constantly discuss how important mistakes are. Without mistakes we wouldn't learn. If we can already answer all the questions or already do everything exactly right, then we already knew it and aren't learning anything at all. Then I make sure to keep value in learning.

I personally use examples from science because many times scientists learn far more from their mistaken hypotheses than their correct hypotheses (and because I was a science teacher for nearly a decade). However, there are examples of the idea in many walks of life. For example, how many strike outs did Babe Ruth get for every home run? How many publishers turned down your child's favorite books for publishing before the right publishing house was found? Start incorporating as many of these kinds of expamles into her awareness as you can through story and discussion - it will really help in the long run.

Fun Resources that include this concept:

The song (and scene with said song) "up from the ashes" from "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"

"Meet the Robinsons" (the movie) The idea of "keep moving forward" is illucidated in this movie along with "celebration of failure". Everyone cheers when Louis makes a mistake.

I'm sure there others (I will definitely look for them) and thanks for the question.

  • 1
    Mythbusters is another good example. A few episodes per season are dedicated to "how great it is to learn from our mistakes." Jan 9, 2014 at 16:17

I have appreciated all of the answers. The only addition I think is important is to look at yourselves. Be gentle. Children with such high expectations for themselves often are like one or both of their parents. If this applies it is useful to acknowledge this and think about what worked for you and what didn't. As the child gets more and more able to deal, let him know what this was like for you growing up. Can you both work on some goals together. There is nothing quite so wonderful than working with a parent on a commonly held problem.


The best thing a parent or teacher can do in this situation is to praise the effort instead of the result, and continue to give her tasks that are just beyond her reach. Just like any other skill, the best way to improve at handling mistakes is to get a lot of practice at it!

Also, there is nothing inherently wrong with striving for perfection. The problem comes when your self esteem is tied up in attaining it, which can lead to working below your potential in order to avoid making mistakes.


Also, ask her HOW she wants to be corrected. (Maybe you have a bad tone or your words are irritating.) Say, "What would you like me to do or to say to you when I see that you have made a mistake on your worksheet?"

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .