Interventions For The Perfectionist

Sometimes our students can be so hard on themselves. It can be especially hard to help little ones who hate making mistakes, put themselves down, and try to do everything perfectly. I have worked with students as young as kindergarten all the way up through middle school with perfectionist tendencies, and have found some great interventions.

Ideas for helping a student who is a perfectionist

Try a Strip Schedule

You may have seen or tried strip schedules with autistic students, but they can be helpful for anyone who has difficulty transitioning or wants more control over their day. A strip schedule is a more personalized intervention, especially because they are able to manipulate it themselves. I often use these with students who have ADHD, ODD, or those with perfectionist tendencies. Sometimes it can take some convincing for the teacher to implement, as they are used to seeing it used as a tool in a smaller, special education setting, but they don’t take much time. You can even train the student to set up their schedule at the start of each day – less work for the teacher and gives the student a special job! So far, I have only seen these be helpful, so I always recommend giving it a try! This strategy works best for elementary-aged students, but you could use fewer pictures on the pieces or more plain labels for older students (this would also depend on the student themselves).

Use a Finish Later Bin

This is one of my favorite strategies! It’s quick, simple, and easy for the student to understand. A “finish later bin” is just how it sounds – the student puts work in a bin that they can finish later. Is your student erasing and rewriting their work repeatedly? Are they having trouble transitioning because they need more time to make it perfect? Have them put their work in the bin and designate a time they can revisit it later. Some times that my students have requested are recess, rest time, or free time. They can even take it home, work on it, and bring it back the next day. Eventually, you’ll want to move on from this idea, but my students tend to do that on their own.

Give Warnings Before a Transition

Giving verbal or visual warnings a few minutes before a transition can make a big difference. It helps the student wrap up their work and prepare to move on. These warnings can be given whole class or individually. I would recommend an individual approach for students who need that 1×1 attention or are often hyper-focused on their work.

First, Then & If, Then

If you or the teacher have tried several other interventions in a given moment and have been unsuccessful, first, then or if, then language may be helpful. You can use this strategy verbally or with a visual strip. The least amount of words you can use, the better. First, then language is meant to set limits or expectations. For example, first math, then free time (this specific example would be appropriate when referencing the finish later bin mentioned above). You can also use if, then to explain consequences for their behavior: If you do not put away your crayons, then you will lose points on your chart. To use this visually, make a strip with 2 boxes, one for first and another for then. Make square pieces that feature things the student usually does throughout the day or requests and adhere with Velcro. Place pieces on the strip when needed.

Stuck Thinking

Does the student have a hard time being flexible with other things? Do they often get stuck on something and have trouble moving on? You may need to work on flexible thinking. Flexible thinking is an executive functioning skill, and some of my autistic students struggle with this a lot. They may get stuck on a topic, activity, or something that happened and have a hard time moving past it. This is a great book for explaining flexible thinking. Social Thinking also includes a book about this in their We Thinkers Volume 2 book set. Once the student has some understanding, they will need to learn strategies to help them regulate and move on like positive self-talk.

Is the Student Struggling With Something Else?

Often, the student is struggling with something else. For one of my students, it was handwriting and crafts. They had low muscle tone in their hands, which made activities like handwriting, cutting, and coloring difficult and painful. Because they still wanted to do well, erasing and rewriting were occurring throughout the day. There are a lot of activities throughout the day that includes one of these skills, so identifying it did take a little while. But once we figured it out, we were able to help the student in many other ways. Make sure you are considering all pieces of the puzzle.

Helping Them Cope With Mistakes

I mentioned helping your students cope if they had trouble with flexibility, but what about actually making the mistake itself? This is just as important to address. Many students with perfectionist tendencies are also struggling with self-esteem or confidence. Help them understand that it’s ok to make mistakes and work on their self-worth if needed.

Overall, finding the right interventions for the perfectionist may take some time and trial and error. But typically once I’ve found something that works, the student is able to make great improvements. Make sure you are considering different factors and communicate with the student about what works for them.

Take care,


Is your student impulsive? You might also find this post helpful.


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