Because I am a high school teacher, I get a front row seat to the work of high achievers. I see the kids who spend 13+ hours at their school participating in clubs, meeting for student council, and volunteering their time to the community. These are the same kids who are taking multiple advanced placement classes while simultaneously earning above a 4.0. And despite what they project to everyone around them, they feel like they are barely holding it together.
As a culture, we expect a lot out of a few, providing a pedestal for those who have an intrinsic desire to do well. No arbitrary reward makes them focus. These kids want to do the best in every situation. In fact, the expectations they have for themselves can be quite damaging. Quite often, we as a society don’t know how to care for these achievers. As parents, there are four ways we can support them.
Failure is expected
The problem with balancing on top of a pedestal is that the fall is much harder. Most of us can admit that we learn more from failure than success, but our type-A children put so much pressure on themselves to succeed in every endeavor, that failure devastates them. If we talk our high achievers through mistakes, they will be able to recover and produce good work again. This not only helps ease the paralysis that unsuccessful endeavors can provide, but it will also help them develop skills they can use in the future.
Stop comparing to others
A common habit for our high achieving children is that they compare their work to the work of others. Doing this can be dangerous because many other ugly characteristics can come about. Feelings of jealousy, resentment, and inadequacy are major players that produce harmful results like anxiety and depression. This is a dead end that we can stop our children from entering. Instead of allowing comparison to take place, parents can help kids to set goals that are smaller and strategic. If a child doesn’t do as well as he or she expected on an assessment, parents can navigate them to work through a setback such as this with goal setting. Next time, the test score may be 10% higher. This way, their focus is on their own behavior, and they may exceed the goals they set for themselves.
Not everything is paramount
It is difficult for our type-A children to realize that not every task is the most important task. Many of these kids believe in the power of competition, but they can take it to a dangerous level. Kids that are competing for the top score or the top place in their class may stop at nothing to gain that achievement. Honors students may feel compelled to compromise their integrity by plagiarizing or cheating in order to get that perfect score. These are not healthy or honest traits. Helping our children see that education is important but scores are secondary can relieve the stress of the perfection seeking child.
Love them unconditionally
Our kids who are over-taxed from expectations society places on them, and more accurately, the expectations they place on themselves need to hear they are loved no matter what. The intensity these children have in life must be countered with a place of safety and comfort. As parents, it is hard to balance high expectations with peaceful understanding, but finding a way to reiterate that our children are loved no matter what may make all of the difference. It will help them ease up on themselves, lessening the anxiety they feel.
By supporting our high achievers, we will not only help them refocus their attention on the good things in life, but our support will also help them achieve more than they ever imagined. Although these type-A children project confidence and composure, this facade is quite brittle, and they need a place of love and support for when they fall.