Posted by: coachingparents | July 14, 2009

Is Your Underachiever Lazy, Dumb, or Unappreciated?

By Christine Duvivier

Under-Achieving or Under-Appreciated

If your teen is in the bottom 80% of the class, you may have been told – or thought– that she is “an underachiever” (a polite way of saying lazy or dumb).   Underachiever compared to what?   Compared to the narrowly-defined measures of school performance or compared to the abilities that will help her to thrive in life?

Appreciating Natural Beauty

In my opinion, your child is not under-achieving.   I think your child is under-appreciated.

Chances are your child has gifts – and chances are that one or more of them conflicts with school as we do it now.  It’s not what your child lacks that is causing the problem.  It’s what your child HAS – that we adults have not learned to appreciate (See Appreciating Beauty in The Bottom 80™ video for more on this).

We’ve inherited education recipes—designed for the Henry Ford generation—that are linear, verbal, competitive, and left-brained and we’ve put them in a pressure-cooker for our teens.   When a child has gifts that are at odds with this model, the child is labeled a problem.   For example, Jonathan is a superb athlete with the gift of grace.  He slows things down in his mind’s eye, remains unruffled in edgy situations, and uses humor to defuse tension in a group.  This gift will help him thrive in life, but it gets him labeled as a “slow processor” in the classroom.

Turning Down the Heat

The real world increasingly values non-linear, non-verbal, collaborative, right-brain abilities, but most adults have grown up learning that these are not essential to a great education or career – and don’t truly value them in our kids (I’ve written about this before).   Parents and teachers tell me they want to value their teens’ gifts and strengths, but too often they feel they must focus on getting the child to fit into the school mold.

Recently, one father asked, “What can I do right now, Christine—while my daughter is still stuck  in the pressure cooker?”   My answer to this father and others?  Turn down the heat.  Reduce your focus on school performance (I’ve written about this here and here)  and give yourself a perspective that makes you feel good about what she has.

A great way to do this is to appreciate your child’s natural gifts and strengths.   Sounds too simple, I know, but it’s actually quite powerful.

Seeing Only the Beauty

You may be thinking, “I already do that. What else have you got?”                                                                      

If you are in the ½ % who are truly gifted at appreciating your child’s gifts without worrying about his “shortcomings,” you can skip the rest (and I’d love to hear from you!).  For the other 99.5%, here are some thoughts for you.

No “If Only” or “But”

To truly appreciate, you have to focus, solely, on the terrific aspects of your child.  This is the crucial point: you focus on what’s good in your child without the “but” or “if only” that usually follows, as in, “she’s so creative… but I worry about her getting into college…” or “he’s so persistent… if only he would apply that to his school work…”

We’re going to start with you. Even though you may be feeling that you appreciate your child more than anyone else, this is still the best place to start because you will have a ripple effect.  In future articles I’ll talk about getting others to appreciate your child as much as you do and also developing your child’s gifts.

For now, take 3 minutes every day for the next 7 days and write “what I appreciate in ______[child’s name]” on the top of a page.  Then spend the 3 minutes in pure appreciation – thinking only about your child’s good qualities.

If you’d like to jump-start your thinking with my list of gifts, click the box below:

Get my Teen Gifts List Here

If you’d like to assess your child’s character strengths, have him or her take the Brief Strengths Questionnaire on

After you write your appreciations on Day 7, take another 3 minutes and answer this question: “What am I noticing in my child that makes me feel great?”   I’d love to hear your answers if you are inclined to share them (Christine AT

Next in the series: The 5 Best Reasons to Appreciate the Worst Underachievers

News from the Author: Parents and teens often dread the college admissions process, but it doesn’t need to create anxiety and family stress.  In fact, it can even be great fun!  In response to parent requests, Dr. Michael Thompson (co-auther of “Raising Cain”) and Christine Duvivier will offer “De-stress the College Process” on September 19 in Boston.  For more information, email or go to

* Thanks to writing expert Daphne Gray-Grant for showing me the value of telling readers how much time to allow for reading the article.

Feel free to reprint this article on your website as long as the following phrase appears at the bottom:
This article is © 2009 To see the original article, click here. To join the discussion on this article, click here.

Christine Duvivier, MAPP, has led positive change as a Fortune 50 executive, as a consultant, and as a guide to parents and educators. Her research shows that all students will benefit from changing our approach to education and that poor-performing students thrive in life when they are allowed to develop their gifts.


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