Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"My Kid Is So SMART!!!"

So, I think it is safe to say that just about everyone's kid is a little super-genius... sometimes, and in some way. Maybe even all the time. I'm sure we all have moments when our kid says or does something outrageously precocious - and hey, feel free to share those moments in the comments.

What do you do when you have acquaintances who makes statements like: "OMG, your kid just READ that?!" "He just wrote his own name?!" "He's way more advanced than my neighbor's little boy who is a year older than him." But in your heart of hearts you think it's all just average behavior. Nothing too special. Just the types of kind of things you'd expect from a kid born to a mother who was over age 30, and living in a home with a lot of books. (Gratuitous "Freakonomics" reference.)

Is the proper response, "Thank you." ??

Probably.

Or do you dare venture into Keeping It Realdom, where you completely disabuse them of their inflated notions of your child's super-extra-specialness? Sometimes I totally want to. But sometimes, just as I'm about to open my mouth, DS makes a crazy horrible impression the very next minute, and suddenly they go back to seeing him for the wonderfully average 3.5-year-old he truly is.

It cracks me up that this exact same child has on the one hand had people sincerely recommend we take him in for a developmental evaluation because he wasn't talking to them, which made them conclude he couldn't talk at all (my son told me later "she was not a nice lady," that's why he wasn't talking to her); and then on the other hand, we've had some total strangers (who don't have kids/have adult kids I might add) tell us they're just blown away by his perceived amazing intelligence.

My conclusion? Context matters.

We can't all be super-geniuses all the time. But we can have moments of brilliance. Followed by moments of crushing defeat.

SES stuff matters. (understatement of the year, that one.)

I really don't think intelligence at age 3 equals intelligence permanently for life, but it sure seems like society does.

Your thoughts?

12 comments:

Jessica said...

I actually have had some conversations like this recently. My DS is four; he's exposed to three languages, so I figured he wouldn't talk forever, but he turned out to be a verbal guy and talked right on time and now speaks all three languages (two much better than the other). He loves books and can sound out a few very simple words. He's also recently gotten really into writing-- he pretty much taught himself to write his own name and likes to write parking tickets and signs (just a bunch of letters, not actual words) as part of his pretend play.

A few parents on the pre-school camping trip were commenting about how "advanced" he is. My response was, "Well, he's really just interested in writing-- he's into it, you know? I know lots of really smart little kids who are just into other things right now." Note, the people who said that stuff to me were all smart, well-read, middle class people who's children are also bi-lingual, so I feel fairly certain that by second grade (by which time almost all kids are developmentally ready to read) things will have evened out. I also know I can ruin it for him if I make too big a deal about being smart or getting all over him to learn how to spell or something, so I try to keep it low key.

That being said, I'd be lying my eyeballs out if I said I wasn't thrilled that he happens to be interested in writing. The reason I can be all non-chalant about it is precisely because he's fulfilling my wildest dreams about a kid who is into books. I just hope that if it doesn't last I don't let my disappointment show.

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

@hush and @jessica, I couldn't agree with you more. I think that each preschooler is naturally drawn to certain subjects that are part determined by nature and part by nurture, and, in their cute preschooler way, they become *obsessed.* So your kid may be able to write his name, another subtract numbers, another kid name all the players on the local baseball team, while my kid can recognize all the Paris monuments from the air and impress the hell out of the woman standing next to him in the tourist hot air balloon at the Parc André Citroën. (And, incidentally, also recognize a half-dozen Loire châteaux from pictures!) I'm not convinced the subject is as important as all that; what they're really learning is how to love learning itself, and explore a subject exhaustively.

Whenever I start getting all smug and proud of my son and myself, I remember that while he's busy scribbling "storms" on any paper I give him, some of his classmates are drawing fully-formed houses and trees and architectural plans and the like. And then I laugh at myself.

I think we have a tendency to equate precociousness with intelligence. Doing something early doesn't necessarily mean doing it best later on... and some kids, I think, don't "jump in" and learn certain subjects until they feel they've got a decent chance of quick mastery, kind of taking a shortcut on the learning curve. It's dangerous territory, I think, because it's easy as a parent to encourage our kids to wear "advanced" like a badge of honor.

That said, I'm as thrilled as the next mama when someone says my kid does something early. And, like hush, I'm just as conflicted about it.

Jac. said...

Totally agree with all the above - my DS's particular interest is Marvel Comic superheroes - and he knows about 200 of them and can rattle off all kinds of interesting facts about them all. When he is doing that, I think he is some kind of genius. But, that's just what he is interested in. Learning letters and writing, not so much. Because we are big fans of the Montessori method of learning, I truly believe that if you just let the kids follow their interests, the learning will come with it, without forcing the issue. The superhero obsession means that we are reading a lot of superhero books (including some chapter books!) which he loves and his vocab is just growing in leaps and bounds.

Moments of brilliance followed by moments of crushing defeat. Exactly.

I also want to add that I think it's really important to recognize all kinds of smart in our kids. Growing up, I was always considered the "smart" one in our family, but that just meant I was good at academic subjects like reading and math. I've always lacked common sense, and get lost walking around a city block. My husband was always considered slow because he was terrible at school, a terrible test taker. BUT, he's incredibly people smart (actually makes his living advising people how to interact with others to get the results they are aiming for) and a very successful entrepreneur (this, after flunking out of business school). I think pigeonholing our kids as smart or not smart too early is really doing our kids a disservice, and I think most people are really smart at something.

caramama said...

I love what everyone is saying about this.

My take is that my kid IS a supergenius, but so is every kid out there. For me, it boils down to this: Childhood development is fascinating and really impressive. To watch a human being go from "lumps of broccoli" (to quote my husband) to kids who are starting to develop the ability focus on subjects of interest and the capability of performing acts that only humans and a few other animals can do like write or draw or point out monuments or learn facts about superheros? That is just amazing.

Every kid, and ever person, has different levels of capabilities and different areas in which they thrive and/or are interested. They are all supergeniuses and I'm really impressed with them all.

Even when they don't sleep, scream instead of use words and stick their hands down into their pee-filled diapers. :-/

Cloud said...

I also agree that kids have different interests and things they are drawn to and naturally get a bit advanced in. I have seen my 4 year old go through various phases- she'll be really into learning words one month, and the next month it will be all about coloring, or whatever.

I try to do two things: (1) recognize when she's switched to being interested in a new skill and give her the chance to practice that and (2) keep offering/encouraging different things to try.

That second one comes from my reading of Pink Brain, Blue Brain, by Lise Eliot. She has a convincing (to me, anyway) hypothesis that a lot of gender differences start very small (or non-existent) and then get amplified (or introduced) by the experiences we give our kids. So I try to make sure that even though Pumpkin really loves languages, I also give her some experiences with spatial reasoning, etc. I don't obsess about it, but I try to keep it in my mind.

nicoleandmaggie said...

I think the best response is just thank you.

Here's my decision to NOT try to disabuse folks of the notion that my kid is anything other than perfect:

http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2010/11/26/thoughts-on-an-earlier-kid-post/

This year has also been a year of the growing realization that having a super smart kid offers a lot of challenges that I can't really close my eyes to. Ignoring them can actually do real harm. There's a greater tendency for perfectionism, which can be self-defeating. There's extra sensitivity. Being out-of-synch with one's same-age peers. Not napping, needing more in depth interactions. There's a whole package of challenges. It's like a syndrome... GCS. I fought a long time against the label before finally giving into the idea that I can learn from it.

As a three year old in the 3-6 year room for Montessori, we were able to ignore these differences, but as ze gets older, we really can't. Though luckily now that ze's older we've stopped getting quite so many of the "omg he can read" comments. Because, as hard as it is to believe (at least for us), reading phonics at age 3 is pretty unusual, even for a kid in a house full of books with educated professional parents over the age of 30. I'd like to think that any kid could do it, and I'm sure many more kids could if given the advantages we have, but it is still unusual and even parents who hothouse can't do what some kids do on their own. It's just a fact. There's a lot of parents we've told, oh, just let your kid play with starfall and it will happen... but it didn't.

Just saying, I was about where you are a year ago... but now I'm more like this: http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/i-am-not-crazy/

Melba said...

Well, coming in late with not much to add, but you saw my post about Rosie's unintentional math skills. It's not like she's interested in math per se... she just does it unknowingly, which I find really cool.

And I just want to add that I totally agree with Jac about the 'smart' and 'not smart' labels that get tacked on kids at an incredibly early age. We really do them a disservice by doing that. How can we expect the 'not smart' kids to find their niche when we've dismissed their ability to do anything meaningful at such a young age?

the milliner said...

Yes, yes, yes and yes! I agree with everything above.

We get a lot of comments from daycare educators and acquaintances that DS is 'so smart'. Like @Hush, I just have no freaking idea how to respond to this. Yes, I think my kid is a super-genius (as does everyone), I even think he may end up being smart or gifted (in the traditional, academic context), but I just have no idea how to respond when someone offers it up as a compliment or a comment.

I don't want to discount it because that feels like I'm taking credit away from him. But even 'thank you' feels a bit weird to me. I mean, they're not telling me I'm smart. Honestly, I think lately, I just smile when people say that. Or I just respond with 'Oh, he really likes letters/numbers/dinosaurs/interest of the day'.

I guess my biggest hang up is for what @Jac & @Melba mention, which is labeling kids, especially so early on. I was definitely labeled a smart kid growing up. It feels good on one hand, but it also places this incredible burden to *always* be smart and to not appear otherwise.

The only thing I've come up with so far is to make an effort to comment on when he makes an effort in doing something (regardless of the outcome) and to not attach so much attention to results. (Which, I have to say, is really hard for me to do considering my own innate drive to do things 'right'. Good practice for both DS and I, I guess). Hopefully this will counter-balance the 'you're so smart' comments with the habit of making an effort and also getting comfortable in doing things, even if you are not good at them.

@Cloud, your comment regarding the gender differences is interesting. I've just recently realised that I may be going too far the other direction in that I don't expose DS to a lot of 'traditional boy' things. We just bought our first book about trucks at Easter. It may or may not be a bad thing that we don't have much traditional boy stuff around, but I figure I could make more of an effort in offering a wide range of activities / subjects to learn about.

paola said...

Firstly I hate hearing both end of the intelligence spectrum comments, and hate making them too (that doesn't mean I don't think them though, especially when one of my son't classmates Mum's tells me that her daughter alreeady can write 1000 Chinese characters and she is only 4.5. Gulp!) Italians are pretty in your face about most things but, unless they are 'blood', usually don't make those kinds of statements. Then again, it could be that no one (except hubby and I, and our kids' grandparents) thinks my kids are super-geniuses.

Still, I do feel reassured that even if my kids are only average at ages 4.5 and 6.5, they have plenty of time to start shining later on. What was that stat of Bronson's in Nurture Shock about locking out 73% of kids if you base their intelligence on intelligence testing at kindergaten (here it is 'if you picked 100 kindergarteners as the 'gifted', by third grade only 27 of them would still deserve that categorization'). I guess that is one of the reasons that here in Europe ( well, Italy ) academic subjects are left altogether until kids starts Primary School at 6. Even my kids' ped told me not to push reading or writing until they get to big school as if they are not ready (ie, intersted in something else), it will mess with self-esteme.

Oh, and wise words, I feel. Neither of my kids is particularly interersted in literacy just yet. Noah loves 'reading' and being read to, and forming letters, but he couldn't be bothered with anythign so mundane as writing his surname. You tell him the same letters mean 'diplodocus' and he will copy and recopy the words till they have covered the page.

Intrinsic motivation can work damn miracles!

NK: Style-ING w/ Children said...

i always encourage process over result. I'd rather my kid was hardworking than easily smart. Because if things happen easily for them they get bored and think that life will give them everything. by encouraging effort i'm hoping she will be able to deal with real life issues, and not just be my baby in the world that i'm creating for her (at this age, we ARE responsible for their environment).

i don't want a smart kid, i want a happy and fulfilled kid

mom2boy said...

Great discussion. I reply with a thank you even though it doesn't make anymore sense than when people say he has my eyes and I say thank you. There is an expectation of a reply, so I say thank you.

Tate has a mom that loves to read. We go to the library, we pick out books that interest him and he remembers things we read about. So, like pervious posters have said, he can wow strangers with his "amazing" knowledge of topic x. I don't think he's a super genius or even a regular genius. He's a curious almost four year old with a pretty good vocabulary. But that doesn't mean I think he is anything less than amazing! :)

hush said...

@Jessica - Welcome! "The reason I can be all non-chalant about it is precisely because he's fulfilling my wildest dreams about a kid who is into books. I just hope that if it doesn't last I don't let my disappointment show." Good insight, and you've hit on something really important, I think.

@Parisienne Mais Presque - "I think we have a tendency to equate precociousness with intelligence. Doing something early doesn't necessarily mean doing it best later on.." So true!

@Jac. and @Melba re: the labels we tack on kids - "I think pigeonholing our kids as smart or not smart too early is really doing our kids a disservice, and I think most people are really smart at something." Amen, and your comments totally remind me of the lessons in "Siblings Without Rivalry"- that even seemingly positive labels can harm children by limiting their own views of themselves.

@Caramama - "To watch a human being go from "lumps of broccoli" (to quote my husband) to kids who are starting to develop the ability focus on subjects of interest..." 'Lumps of broccoli' = love that, in fact I kind of want to marry that. ;)

@Cloud - You're so right on - "..Pink Brain, Blue Brain, by Lise Eliot. She has a convincing (to me, anyway) hypothesis that a lot of gender differences start very small (or non-existent) and then get amplified (or introduced) by the experiences we give our kids." I loved that book, too. Relatedly, I truly think a lot of "intelligence" is really just shorthand for the experiences children are perhaps more prone to get from high-SES/older parenting. It boils down to experiences doesn't it?

@nicoleandmaggie - "It's like a syndrome... GCS. I fought a long time against the label before finally giving into the idea that I can learn from it." Even though the stark realness of it kind of freaks me out, I will keep your comment in mind as my son develops into a 4-year-old and beyond.

@the milliner - "I don't want to discount it because that feels like I'm taking credit away from him. But even 'thank you' feels a bit weird to me. I mean, they're not telling me I'm smart." LOL! I love how you put that. Glad I'm not the only one who struggles with finding an appropriate response! ;)

@Paola - "I guess that is one of the reasons that here in Europe ( well, Italy ) academic subjects are left altogether until kids starts Primary School at 6. Even my kids' ped told me not to push reading or writing until they get to big school as if they are not ready (ie, intersted in something else), it will mess with self-esteme." You know, I really think that Italian (and Western European?) approach of waiting on the hardcore academics until the kids have naturally developed greater self-control habits around age 6-7 has a lot of merit. Waiting makes a lot of sense in the aggregate, especially when you compare long-term educational outcomes. The US is something like 35th in math and science, even though most 5-year-olds start learning academic stuff in K - clearly early start doesn't necessarily equal long term gain.

@NK - "Because if things happen easily for them they get bored and think that life will give them everything." Amen! If you haven't read Bronson & Merryman's "Nurture Shock" yet, I think you'll find it dovetails quite nicely with the kind of parenting you're doing.

@mom2boy - "He's a curious almost four year old with a pretty good vocabulary. But that doesn't mean I think he is anything less than amazing! :)" Mother love is some weird, wonderful stuff. If someone didn't think their kid was at least a little bit amazing, I admit I'd be somewhat surprised, maybe even impressed with their honesty! "There is an expectation of a reply, so I say thank you." Yes, I agree 'thank you' is the thing to say.