Dear Dr. Linda,

My husband and I had a conference with our daughter’s third-grade teacher and I’ve been upset ever since. She told us that Julie’s a lovely little girl and does well in school. She also added that all her scores are average. I asked what I could do to get her scores above average and she looked at me and said, “She’s fine.” Since kindergarten I’ve been told that Julie’s a good student with average intelligence. Every year I ask what I should do to help her get above average and I always get the same answer, “She’s doing just fine.” My husband thinks I’m awful because I work with her all the time in hopes of making her above average. I don’t see anything wrong with trying to help her improve, and I’m scared that if I don’t push her, the school will do nothing and she won’t be able to get into a good college.

Caring and Concerned Mom

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Dear Caring and Concerned Mom,

Every parent would like to be able to say that their child is above average. I think that there are some who would rather say that their child has a learning disability than to have him described as “average.” Our culture has a lot to do with that—consider the words of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion: “Well, that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

When it comes to success, being average or above average in intelligence is only one standard of measurement. To succeed in or out of school, we need many other skills—organizational skills, time management skills, interpersonal relationship skills, perseverance, strategies for setting goals and working toward them.

I’ve worked with students who scored average on every intelligence test and still graduated from colleges and universities of note. I’ve also worked with students who scored in the gifted range, and yet never finished college or even applied to go. When we apply for jobs, if a college degree is required, that we graduated and in what academic area is far more important than the college(s) we attended. Unless one’s goal is to become a lawyer on Wall Street, it’s usually not important.

There are countless examples of people who score high on intelligence tests who fail to achieve anything of note in the real world and even more examples of well-rounded, intellectually “average” people who break barriers athletically, artistically, musically and academically. Scoring in the average range on school intelligence tests is not only perfectly normal, but it’s perfectly wonderful, too. It’s finding our own unique niches in life that eventually leads to a happy and successful life.

Let Julie know how very proud you are to be her mother just the way she is. Otherwise, because your focus is on changing her, you run a greater risk of communicating that she’s not good enough—not tall enough, not thin enough, not smart enough—when she is uniquely and wonderfully perfect. I expect your husband thinks so, too.

If your daughter enjoys reading, writing stories, or playing math games with you, then keep it up. There is nothing wrong with enriching her environment and spending time with her. But…if she resists the routine, stop and think about what you’re doing. Chances are your efforts are designed to make you feel better. Which means they have much more to do with your own self-esteem than hers.

Dr. Linda