I talk to so many parents every day. The other day a delightful dad shared about his truly brilliant daughter who is taking the ACT and SAT tests right now. He wants her score to improve on the essay portion. (She’s already got a good score, actually.) So that’s when I know. I know there’s pressure in that family for this kid to do exceptionally well, not just really well.
We had a wonderful conversation and I gave him all kinds of advice about how to help her in her specific case. (She sounds like such a smartie!)
Right at the end, though, a thought occurred to me. Here’s what I told him:
“As you work with your daughter on these ideas, do them at Barnes and Noble or over ice cream. Get a latte, bring your laptop, sit close to your daughter and enjoy the time you have together. Begin by telling her how amazing she is, how proud of her you already are, and let her know that if her score doesn’t go up even a point, or if she draws a blank or regresses, you are perfectly okay with that—that she’s already proven herself to you and her mom and you are thrilled with who she is becoming. Make sure she knows that the pressure is off—that she’s already done enough, and that this additional test is just one more try. No one can write well when they feel pressure to perform. They need to be relaxed.”
I hadn’t expected the reply that came through the phone. This dad suddenly became animated:
“Have you been a fly on the wall of our house?” He chuckled but with a wince of pain behind it.
“Our daughter is having GI issues; has had to go to the doctor to have treatments all this year. She has had to leave the SAT test twice to throw up. I hadn’t considered that I might be part of the problem, pushing her too hard. But I think you must be right that I am putting pressure on her. And you are right, too, that she has already done a good job. I will take what you said to heart. I don’t want to make things worse for her.”
We continued to talk for a bit about the role of pressure, the colleges he hopes she’ll attend (she’ll have no trouble getting in the ones he shared with me based on the scores she’s already got!), and his dreams for her. I know that some families put a lot of weight on scores, independent of what they achieve.
It occurred to me that it might be a good idea to put this out there to all of you: a score is just a measure on that day of your child’s work in that context. It’s not a verdict on whether or not your child is smart, worthy, or even educated. It can point to a few things (it is an indicator). But it isn’t a measure of who your child is or whether or not you should be overly proud or ashamed.
So lighten up. This child of yours is an independent being from you. This is his or her life. You get to cheerlead, support, and guide, but you can’t make your child perform. That’s up to the individual.
Go get Cokes, take the pressure off, provide support and help, see what happens. You might be surprised.
Cross-posted on facebook.