It’s Not All Mary Poppins

“Average” is not an insult

Lily is a chatterbox. A sponge for language. She absorbs new words — and spews them back out again — at a tremendous rate. Today’s new one? “Catapult.” “Cah-pull.” She doesn’t know what it means, but she sure does like the way it rolls around in her mouth.

“Rory. Those chick peas are for eating, and you’re not a catapult.” (In case you were wondering.)

“Cah-pull, cah-pull!”

It’s very cute. A friend comments, “She’s very good with language! I believe every child has their area of excellence.”


Know what? I don’t.

Lily is a chatterbox, and she certainly has an affinity for language. Her vocabulary is about 50 times greater than Rory’s (a pretty standard boy-girl variation at this age), but also than Grace’s (but then, Grace is processing two languages simultaneously). But is this ‘excellence’?

Nope. She’s good with words, but not extraordinarily so. Lily falls solidly within the parameters of ‘normal’. As do Rory and Grace. ‘Normal’ is a pretty broad field. Most of us fall into it. (Which is, after all, what makes it ‘normal’.)

Think about it. If we were all “above average”, then that would be, by definition, “average”. You can’t escape the laws of statistics.

A child who has been told since birth that they’re exceptional for their perfectly standard accomplishments will have very little motivation to strive hard to excel. Why would they, when just chattering up a storm, stacking four blocks, tying your shoes, singing the alphabet, is sufficient to have people marvelling at your ‘excellence’?

Take pleasure in your child’s accomplishments. Expect them to work hard to excel within their capabilities. But to expect exceptionality? Totally unfair. I think it’s arguable that everyone has areas of particular competence, but true ‘excellence’? I doubt it.

“I think mummy… at work.” Lily declares.

Wait, now. A five-word sentence… at 21 (22?) months old…


I guess, by that same law of averages, some kids really are exceptional, right?

December 7, 2010 Posted by | Developmental stuff, Lily | , , , | 7 Comments


“I think we’re both agreed that she’s quite bright.” The mother is leaning toward me, a confident smile on her face.

In fact, we agree on no such thing. I don’t think she’s stupid, but I’m not convinced she’s particularly bright. She has her strengths: her fine motor control is astonishing in a child her age, and her unquashable good humour is an inarguable strength.

But bright? Maybe. It’s young to know for sure, but if I were asked for an opinion — which I was not — I’d say she was average.

But you can’t say that to parents. Other people, unfortunates that they are, might be burdened with average children, but mine? Mine is exceptional!

You ask a hundred parents if their child is below average, average or above average, and I’m betting that 90 of them would say they had above-average kids. To say anything else, is, well, it’s insulting to the child!

Here’s news for you: that’s impossible. If everyone were exceptional … pause for a second to absorb that reality … ‘exceptional’ would be, by definition, ‘average’.

So, this lovely little girl is probably average. Most of us are. If we’re fortunate, we have areas of particular strength or ability that is possibly better/more than average, but, taken as a package, we’re average.

And you know what? That’s okay. You capitalize on your strengths, you work to ameliorate/minimize your weaknesses, and you become the best you can be.

Not everyone can be exceptional. But everyone, barring some unfortunate extremes, can be kind, considerate, polite. Everyone can do their best, can give and take, can contribute to their environment, their family, their society in some positive way.

And that? That is good enough.

January 20, 2010 Posted by | individuality, parenting | , , , , | 19 Comments