Regressing Toward the Mean

Regressing Toward the Mean | HSLDA Blog

I remember being fascinated by the concept in statistics called “Regression toward the mean,” which involves the idea that extreme cases (of either exceptionally excellent or exceptionally dismal results) are usually mere outliers and will typically be followed up with more average and expected results. This means that a truly stellar performance does not necessarily indicate that new heights of expertise have been achieved, only that random distribution has reared its head and assured that both ends of the bell curve are firmly sticking out where they belong.

Social science doesn’t always follow raw numbers theories, but it can be comforting to observe the overlap in mathematical and social disciplines. I’ve noticed this phenomenon of regressing toward the mean in our daily lives, and it’s both humbling and reassuring to be aware of this principle at work, especially as it relates to parenting and home schooling.

The discouraging view of this pretty inescapable principle is that, no matter how brilliant that “Aha!” break-through might be or however utopian that bright sunlit day when everything is going so swimmingly might appear, it will inevitably be followed up by a disappointing sequel: a reversion to bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, grumpy attitudes, carelessness, and the like. How tempting it is to wring one’s hands and bemoan, “I thought we had gotten past this!!”

However—and I always like to end up on an optimistic note!—as science has proven, for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. When things look most grim, you know it can only get better. The darkest hour is just before dawn.

Alas, I find myself reverting to another mean more often than I’d like—not the scientific mean of placid averages and calm steadiness, but the frustrated, frazzled, small-minded mean of a poor attitude and a lack of grace. When things bog down, it can be hard to maintain an even keel and remember that tomorrow is a new day. Here are a few helpful ways I’ve found of responding to stress without breaking down completely:

Pray. When things are at their worst and I’m feeling the most frazzled is usually exactly when I can’t desert the scene of the crime, so going off to my prayer corner to reclaim my equilibrium is not usually on order. But even a quick prayer for peace and patience can be very grounding.

Confess. It’s humbling to admit when we’ve been in the wrong. But it is extremely effective at clearing the air to say, “I’m sorry for how I acted. We’re supposed to speak kindly to one another, and my words were not kind or loving. Will you forgive me?” It also sets a good example for my children when they see me accepting responsibility for my actions.

Regressing Toward the Mean | HSLDA Blog

Do try to get out of the fray as soon as reasonably possible. We all (well, most of us homeschool graduates of a certain age, forsooth!) know the story of Susannah Wesley, she of the many children who would cast her apron over her face for a little peace and privacy in the midst of chaos.

(Well, apparently it worked for her. My kids would probably take that as a game of hide-and-seek or peek-a-boo or else seize the opportunity to wreak further havoc, but to each his own). If I can’t escape from the overwhelm, at least I can usually look at the clock and determine at what point I will be enabled to slip away for an interlude of peace and quiet, and can get a decent verisimilitude of a second wind from that determination.

Don’t beat yourself up over the inevitable failures. Not everything that goes wrong is your fault. Not everything that goes right is to your credit, either. It’s called grace. Accept it, and extend it to others.

Don’t wait for inertia to rescue you from the clutches of despair. Eventually, things will get better, but I try not to let that assurance stop me from briskly getting up and on with it in the meantime. Just because tomorrow is a new day that is statistically guaranteed to be better than this one is no excuse to ignore the dishes piling up in the sink now.

The happy days go by all too quickly. The harrowing moments loom large at the time, but we shouldn’t let them define us.

Rose Signature

Photo Credit: All images courtesy of Rose Focht.

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