Insight into the Life of an Over-Achieving Child
By Sara Dawkins
When my oldest was born I did not have a clue about what to expect. She was so bright and alert and seemed to understand everything I said from the very beginning. The time that stands out so clearly in my mind was when she was nine months old and the whole house came down with a stomach bug, her included. We were laying there side by side waiting for the next event to happen with our trusty trash can nearby. I had seen other children sick and they did not seem to care where or on whom they threw up. But this little girl who could not yet talk would look over at me with her big chocolate eyes in a panic and when she did I would get the trash can, she would sit up and do her business politely and that would be that. This was just a taste of the amazing child and adult she would become.
Without knowing any better, in all my amazement I began bragging on her and praising her for all her awesome achievements. She began talking so clearly and distinctly, in sentences at one year old. She had a cousin that was a year younger and my Mom babysat for both of them from the get go. My daughter was taking care of this younger cousin and making sure he stayed out of trouble. If you told her not to touch something she would not touch it, if you explained something to her, she understood. My Grandmother, her Great-Grandmother would come and stay with us every year and was on quite a few medications. She would keep them on the table next to her bed and keep the door shut. I do not know how it happened but my nephew got into the bedroom when he was one and my daughter saw him eyeing the pills. She was two mind you. She came running down the hall announcing that her cousin was going to die if we did not come. She knew exactly the implications of the pills on the side table.
My Mom taught Bible scriptures to all the kids in the family. She loved Psalms 27 and started to teach it to my daughter, by the time she was four she could quote more than half of the Psalm with clarity. When you have time you should take a look at Psalms 27, what a wonderful passage to have etched into her heart. She could remember anything she was read or that she heard from you or on television. She loved watching informational shows, one of her favorites was Bill Nye the Science Guy and she also loved the New Yankee Workshop. I am sure there were more but those two I distinctly remember. Anything that showed how to build or that taught something she was there. It came in handy one particular October when she was three and we had carved a pumpkin to put out on the porch. It had been there quite a while and when my girl went out to visit her pumpkin one day it had started to fall apart. She was crying and crying while I started to explain that when fruits and vegetable get older that they begin to get soft and then they go back into the ground in the simplest terms I could think of. She stopped crying abruptly but I do not think it had anything at all to do with what I was saying; it was if a light came on suddenly. She said, “Oh, I remember now Mommy, it deteriorated, I learned about this on Bill Nye the Science Guy. It’s okay!” And that was that, she went happily back to playing.
These types of things happened over and I was amazed each time. I bragged on her and told her how smart she was and every time I did she would beam and proceed to go and do even more amazing things. She loved to be read to but when we would try and teach her to read she refused, she wanted to be read to. She would listen so intently that after a few times of reading a book she had it memorized. She would sit down with a book and if you did not know better you would think that she was reading. She knew all the words on a particular page and when to turn the pages and she would for all intents and purposes appear to be reading the book. She would spend long stints of time sitting and reading her books. We thought, well she is ready to learn, but no deal. She wanted to be read to only, you could even sit and read her the dictionary and she would intently listen. She went to Kindergarten and was thrilled because the teacher read to them and she already knew her alphabet and numbers etc. They did not start teaching them to read until first grade. A couple days into first grade she came home and she was very upset with me. She said, “Why didn’t you teach me to read Momma?” I tried to defend myself and tell her that we did but she was clearly upset. She said, “Well, I have to learn how to read now because my best friend can read and I can’t! She went to pre-school!” Oh my. I was in trouble.
She promptly set about learning to read as fast as possible. We are still close friends with her first grade teacher and she said she had never seen a child who did not know how to read at all learn to read so quickly and so well. That is my girl, when she sets her mind on something she gets it done. I am telling you all this because I am so very proud of her but I also want to share that there can be possible side effects for having such a wonderful person in your life. The more you bragged on her, the better she would do and anything you did for her she wanted to turn around and do something greater for you. She wanted to please not only me but everyone around her. She was determined to do an excellent job on everything. She worked diligently to get good grades, it was not hard for her to do at all in grade school but when she got into middle school it was more work, of course. I remember when she got her first B; she was crying and so very unhappy. I thought something terrible had happened. I told her it was fine and that she was doing great but it really affected her.
I did not realize how much it affected her until she got into high school and I walked into her room one day after she had washed her hair. She was drying her hair with a towel and combed it as we talked. She had long hair parted in the middle and as I sat there I looked at where her hair parted and there was about an inch wide bald spot going down the length of her part! I gasp and asked her what it was and when it had happened! She looked a little embarrassed and told me, “Yes Mom, I noticed it a few weeks ago and I have been parting my hair over farther. I guess I have been pulling it out.” My heart sank and I could not even fathom what she was saying. I asked her if she was sure that is what it was and asked her how she could have pulled out so much hair. She said she just pulls it out one at a time while she is reading and she does not realize she is doing it. Of course I immediately called the doctor and we went to see him.
We found out that she had something called Trichotillomania. It shows up generally around the pre-teen age and happens because of stress. I felt so very bad because I suddenly realized that all my bragging and encouragement to my daughter was causing her to stress about doing even better! Our family doctor who is so very wonderful sat her down and told her that high school was no big deal and she should just take it easy. That the grades were not that important, just take it easy and ace the SAT’s. He told her that he knew that would be no big deal for her and that is what he did. He said he had fun in school and kept up with his work but did not worry and then worked hard on the tests to get into college. He assured her that if he could be a doctor and take it easy then she could as well. After he talked to her, and to me, it seemed to help a lot. She went into counseling and the doctor told her to start wearing a hat when she read so that she would not pull out her hair absent mindedly. After a short time her hair grew back and she was much better. This is not the case for everyone who suffers from Trichotillomania but with a lot of prayer and apologizing on my part for pushing her without knowing, some counseling and practice taking it easy she was able to overcome. But then that was the mind of this amazing girl, she knew it was bad and she determined to overcome. But I did not brag!
It never crossed my mind that you could applaud a child too much. I have never met anyone before my daughter that responded so quickly to appreciation and compliments. She was determined to please and go above and beyond every past victory. How long can that go on? So for you parents who have an over-achiever beware that you do not brag and encourage them into a situation they cannot handle. Bless their little hearts they will go until they drop trying. It breaks your heart as much and sometimes more than the child who is not performing to their potential. Take a look at your little over-achiever and let them know that no matter what they do you are proud of them and make them take some time off thinking about others and focus a little on themselves. They need to know that it is okay not to go above and beyond the best of their best; they need to feel loved and accepted just because they are. It takes a conscious effort on our parts parents for these amazing children to keep them in balance for their good and because we love them so.
Sara is an active nanny as well as an active freelance writer. She is a frequent contributor of http://www.nannypro.com/. Learn more about her http://www.nannypro.com/blog/sara-dawkins/.