Is Your Kid A Genius?

Short answer: Probably not.

Last month Newsweek revealed to parents something teachers have long known. They're No Baby Einsteins reports that 95 percent of kids are not gifted, no matter what we parents think. And the lack of genius is good news despite the "epidemic of specialness" rampant among parents today.

"What parents don't realize is that there is still a normal curve," explains Wendy Mogel, Los Angeles-based psychologist and author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. "Most kids are in the middle. Some kids will never love to read or never be good at math and they can still lead productive, happy lives."

Like many new parents, there were moments when my husband and I thought our firstborn was a genius. He learned to read before kindergarten and could do multiplication and simple division by age six. Wow! But it turns out he was just exceptionally eager to please us and blessed with a good memory. Now that he's 10 years old, and has two younger sisters for comparison, he's just garden-variety smart. Phew.

Hidden in the obsession to recognize our kids' "specialness" lies an important lesson of parenting balance. No matter your child's IQ or unique talents, praising their effort is far more influential than complimenting their innate talent. Research by Po Bronson and Carol Dweck and a team from Columbia University, reported in New York Magazine, The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) and elsewhere last February questioned the long-held assumption that "praise boosts self-esteem and ultimately, performance." The research team proved instead that kids praised for their effort recovered from failure more quickly. Children praised for their intelligence scored 20 percent lower. The balanced conclusion: Praise children for qualities they can control, like effort, rather than IQ, robotic memory skills or raw athletic ability.

My husband and I learned this lesson the hard way. After ooohing and ahhing over our son's math and reading talents, we started noticing a disturbing consensus among his teachers: He was doing poorly in school because he refused to ask questions when he didn't understand something. We had overpraised him to the point that he thought value lay in figuring out the answer quickly, without help. It took us more than a year to convince him that asking questions, practicing, making mistakes and learning from others is an important life skill. In fact, far more important than neurons firing in his brain unaided.

This lesson applies to the workplace, too. It is far more important to effectively execute a good plan, which involves massive effort, patience and management skills, than to invent brilliant solutions in a brainstorming session. I'd much rather be surrounded by effective "do-ers" who consistent give their best effort than a bunch of "geniuses."

What about you? What do you see in your own kids, your fellow parents praising their kids in school and the soccer field, or in your "special" colleagues at work? Do you believe intelligence, effort, or a combination of both matters most in the long run?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  February 4, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Raising Great Kids
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I like this one - good advice.

Posted by: cmecyclist | February 4, 2008 7:21 AM

Well since my kid is in special education preschool, we are fully aware that she is NOT a genius. We are striving for normal now. Actually like all kids, she has strengths and weaknesses. She is cognitively normal and does well with academic information. She seems to learn letters, numbers, colors, shapes, counting quite naturally. She has the social skills of a slug and we are working on that. She has great gross motor skills. Her fine motor skills are in the range of normal but I think a little on the weak side. She is very funny, sweet, stuborn, and an all around nice kid. Overall I think natural intelligence can only take you so far. You really need the total package to survive.

Posted by: foamgnome | February 4, 2008 7:36 AM

I love the technique in praising kids. They are so much more likely to give something a shot than when they think they need to have mastered the skill prior to a first attempt. I know I'm guilty of the lack of trying and taking the easy way out, so if I encourage my own child to try, try again and practice makes perfect, then I'm all for it.

Posted by: brenda.dreesbach | February 4, 2008 7:41 AM

I agree that kids are overpraised. I think some praising is important, but too much is ridiculous. "Good sharing!" is okay (sharing is really hard to do), but "Great job walking instead of running next to the pool!" is probably unnecessary. If a child can't obey the rules, discipline is probably in order, not praise.

It is my dearest wish that my children end up happy, kind, and well-adjusted (in addition to healthy). Everything after that is gravy.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | February 4, 2008 7:54 AM

One of my daughters is smart (NOT a genius by any means!) but our issue with her is the effort. She does the minimal she can to get by. Her older sister never had that problem so this is a new one for us. While she gets B's in school (middle school), she would be getting A's if she tried harder. We consistently point to her effort and while she's gotten better at asking her teachers questions when she doesn't understand something, she still seems to do the minimum required. How have other people dealt with this in their own child?

Posted by: juliekirk | February 4, 2008 8:08 AM

Thank you for this. I think the terms "gifted" and "bright" have been very confused and the consequences for some kids have not been totally benign.

I have tried to praise my kids, who I think are bright but by no means gifted, for their efforts, and also show them how their efforts eventually make what is at first hard easier and more rewarding for them in the end. Having the ability to work towards something and understand the benefits of the process (not just obtaining a result) is a far better life gift then a super high IQ.

Posted by: rybatskoye | February 4, 2008 8:19 AM

One of the women I work with skipped two grades (one in elementary, one in middle school) and finished college in 2.5 years. She's okay now (a little quirky, shall we say), but she has spoken often and movingly of her loneliness in school as a result of her being pushed to advance. She feels that she pleased her parents, but at a tremendous cost.

I wish that any parent who is pushing their child like that would step back and think about whether you're doing it for your child -- or for you. Yes, there are children who would thrive on that kind of pressure, but there are very, very few, many less than most people would believe. Mensa says that less than 2% of the population are actually genuises. What are the odds your child's in that demographic?

Posted by: WorkingMomX | February 4, 2008 8:39 AM

I agree that kids are overpraised. I think some praising is important, but too much is ridiculous. "Good sharing!" is okay (sharing is really hard to do), but "Great job walking instead of running next to the pool!" is probably unnecessary. If a child can't obey the rules, discipline is probably in order, not praise.

It is my dearest wish that my children end up happy, kind, and well-adjusted (in addition to healthy). Everything after that is gravy.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | February 4, 2008 07:54 AM

I kind of agree with you and kind of not. If kid has had a problem with running by the pool, praising them for walking isn't praising them for not following the rules. It's praising them for following the rules when they weren't good at following the rules previously. Maybe it doesn't need to be "great job!" but acknowledging that the kid is behaving well isn't a bad thing.

Posted by: rockvillemom | February 4, 2008 9:11 AM

"What are the odds your child's in that demographic?"

Probably about as likely that they will be Eli Manning, but that won't stop parents either!

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 4, 2008 9:13 AM

"How have other people dealt with this in their own child?"

Haven't dealt with this in my kids yet, but my 2 cents is that you should help find ways to make the material exciting and relevant. If you can find a way to tie it into something she is excited about then she may do better. (does she like sewing - there's math in that? Does she enjoy sports - go over the sports scores with her? Find stories about girls her age in history to make it appealing.) We are all willing to work at something we are passionate about or something that we feel is relevant. Help her find her passion.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 4, 2008 9:19 AM

My 7th grade doughter informed me over this weekend not to expect any more strait A report cards unless I get her the fully decked out cell phone with unlimited text messaging. And I can forget having my laudry done too!

As you can imagine, this is one girl that I rarely ever say "no" to, and for very good reasons.

As kids get older they figure out that words are cheap, the praise thing runs its course, and then it's time to start putting the money on the table. Sheesh! Good parenting is getting much more expensive than I originally anticipated...

Or maybe it's just teenage girls?

Posted by: DandyLion | February 4, 2008 9:22 AM

juliekirk, I was a child like your daughter - smart but fell short in the effort department. I excelled in early grades but by the time I hit JHS and HS I was getting B's and C's when I was able to get much better grades. I remember my parents piling on about my lack of effort, reminding me I was "capable of so much more" - which promptly went in one ear and out the other. It was annoying but they had to push me, it was just not to the point of resentment.

The best thing they did during these years was teach me life skills, balance a check book, save money, choose your friends wisely, etc. These skills go a long way and despite other kid's academic billiance, some severly lacked the social skills or common sense to succeed in HS, college and beyond.

BTW: I got into a good college, did not excel there either, but found a good job after HS (and 2 more since) and worked hard and it all paid off. I may not be making a fortune but I am happy in my work and I find that very satisfying. For the most part I am well adjusted (self analysis!) and have used the life lessons mush more than my degree.

Not sure if that helps. I am sure your daughter will be fine - it is a very fine line to walk with your kids and I wish you the best.

Posted by: cmac | February 4, 2008 9:22 AM

I will second Moxie's comments on finding their passion if possible, but beware, they may not find it till after you are done "raising" them. Not everyone is going to be the dedicated soccer player, chess player, singer, dancer, artist, baker or candle stick maker. It is fine to have hobbies that aren't passionate, over time they develop - into adulthood.

Posted by: cmac | February 4, 2008 9:28 AM

How to define a kid genius? This is not based on his school GT status (up to 45% of children get into GT in some schools), not on CTY placement or Wechsler (sp?) scores. It's just his way of thinking, talking, and doing things. Plus family history. OK, I'm just plain smart. It's easy to imagine you are a genius when you are doing calculus in Dumbf***, Indiana, but eventually you meet really smart people. Guys that see the solution before you even finished describing the problem. Kids who generalize the examples to a degree where they reinvent matrix algebra ( I've met a kid like this when I was doing 8th grade enrichment in inner city school). Geniuses are off the curve. Mensa 2%? It's millions! Geniuses are much rarer. If you want to see REALLY smart kids, go to Davidson school in Nevada (I did). The Davidson family got rich on educational software (I like KidCad in particular)and now they are running a FREE school for supertalented children (top 1% on IQ test). But they don't identify even those kids as geniuses.

Speaking of my own family, the genius one here is my husband. He is the one who taught himself to read before age two (literally decoded the alphabet listening to the records with baby books attached), graduated from college at 15, got other advanced degrees and did not burn out. I don't expect a kid to repeat this performance, though he does pretty well. No bragging about the kids until they are 18 :)

Posted by: TheRealOne | February 4, 2008 9:32 AM

My sister and I were both very smart and I was put in the gifted class at our elementary school. By middle school, I was bored with school, but my sister was still making straight A's. My mom pushed my sister very hard but had relatively low expectations for me. Well, it worked out to my advantage. I went from a working class -low income- all black Southern school to Ivy League PhD by the time I was 26. My sister graduated from law school, but suffers from too much praise and pressure. Everything she does it for acceptance or approval. She is afraid to make mistakes, so she doesn't try if she thinks she can't be the best.

My own kids are very young (1 & 2). They love to explore and to learn about things like babies do. I think they are fantastically smart, but I don't want robots who can recite textbooks. My friends encourage me to teach my two year old to read because she loves books. I don't want her reading at 2 or even 3. I want her to take naps in kindergarten. I look for ways to teach them how to love to learn and how the basics of math and language, etc. figure into our everyday life. I have met plenty of people who test well and make straight A's and I find them unbearably stupid when it comes to real life issues and social interactions. I want my kids to have good social skills and good common sense that's enhanced by a genuine understanding of why and how things work.

I think I did well because I learned on my own terms and I love learning. You don't have to be gifted or a genius to develop that love. You have to have the right environment, one that encourages learning and supports autonomy.

Posted by: mowilli31 | February 4, 2008 9:37 AM

Re: moxie's comment about Eli Manning. We discussed this several months ago on this blog, but it's important to remember "Cooper Manning syndrome."

Okay, you've heard of Peyton and Eli, but who's Cooper Manning, you might ask? Archie and Olivia Manning have three sons: Cooper, the oldest; then Peyton and finally Eli, the youngest.

Cooper was actually a very talented wide receiver (hey, SOMEBODY in that family had to go out for the pass). He was offered football scholarships to a number of colleges; he took the one to Ole Miss. Then he came down with spinal stenosis, and his football career was over.

Today, he's actually very successful in the oil business in Houston. He's married with two small children.

Some people might think that Cooper has to be cursing his luck - the only male member of the family NOT to be an NFL quarterback. There was a blurb on Sports Illustrated's website the other day about how it must really stink to be Cooper. But he's very happy and successful in his own right. And when Archie was asked who his and Olivia's favorite child was, he immediately answered "Cooper, because he's the only one that's given us grandkids."

Not everybody's Peyton or Eli; there's a lot of Cooper Mannings in the world.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | February 4, 2008 9:45 AM

Another note on the Mannings: in the pre-game show Archie Manning said that Eli was really a late bloomer, didn't even start talking until he was three. Thought that might be encouraging for all you parents who think there is something wrong with your kid just because they don't develop at a normal rate... they could still win the superbowl! So you may want to wait before you run to the pediatrician for a diagnoses....

Posted by: JJ321 | February 4, 2008 10:03 AM

When other parents brag to me about what a genius little Muffy is, I just smile and think how little these people know. Be extremely, extremely careful what you wish for. True gifted children are actually just another category of at-risk kids. Don't believe me? Talk to somebody who is/was branded "gifted" as a child. These are not garden variety smart kids: these are those with IQs at least two standard deviations outside the mean, and who achieved in a way that most people are afraid of and mistrust.

There are two severe innate problems with the kind of special-ed required by the gifted. First, you can place them either with their emotional level, or their mental one -- but not both. Which part of their development are you going to honor? Think that over for awhile. Second, throughout your life, being "above average" means you will be dealing with people who aren't as smart as you are, and doing tasks designed for those people. It is like having a porsche and spending all of your time in bumper to bumper traffic!!! When you finally do get a chance to run the engine, you often find it hasn't been tuned in so long it sputters.

I was not the smartest kid I knew; indeed, I spent a great deal of time feeling like an imposter in Smartland. I was still undeniably gifted. I wasn't just reading when I was 4, I had cycled through the encyclopedia and had developed a taste for Edgar Allen Poe. It was incredibly hard, and I do not know a single person with an IQ over 130 who hasn't considered suicide as the only rational approach to the drudgery and demeaning nature of daily life. Really seeing the disconnect between human suffering and the concept of a loving God at age 7 or so is not good for life-long happiness.

My children have normal IQs. I'm grateful for that mercy. If these braggart parents had any idea, they would shut their mouths.

Posted by: badmommy | February 4, 2008 10:03 AM

"my 2 cents is that you should help find ways to make the material exciting and relevant. If you can find a way to tie it into something she is excited about then she may do better"
"We are all willing to work at something we are passionate about or something that we feel is relevant. Help her find her passion"
I agree, but your kids also have to learn that every once in a while they must work hard on things they're NOT passionate about. I have a 11 YO who excels in math and history (which he loves) and most of my praising goes to his efforts in music or in art class (where he is not very talented or very interested).
I think he has already discovered the sheer pleasure of a job well done. He comes home with a big smile on his face every time his effort delivers him a good grade on those subjects, whereas his standard A's in math he just reports like something nice and easy, no big fuss (I never fail to tell him how proud I am of his performance, though). We talk a lot about work vs.. innate capacities, and not only the school related ones.

Posted by: portuguese-mother | February 4, 2008 10:10 AM

Great article. I like the emphasis on praising effort rather than ability. When quite young, I was the tall kid in class and envisioned playing basketball in college. Then, I slowed down and everyone in my class passed me (including my younger brother). I'll try to not place expectations on my young children (2 year old twin toddlers).

"I do not know a single person with an IQ over 130 who hasn't considered suicide as the only rational approach to the drudgery and demeaning nature of daily life."

What a sad statement. Also remarkably unrepresentative as smart people range the gamut of emotional stability. One simply needs to find joy in the small things, regardless of one's intelligence or education . Before enlightment, chop wood, pour water. After enlightment, chop wood, pour water.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | February 4, 2008 10:20 AM

Leslie's story about her oldest child also made me wonder if we tend to put more pressure on our firstborns, as if their good performance represents some kind of validation of our still untested parenting skills. Do you agree?

Posted by: portuguese-mother | February 4, 2008 10:22 AM

The issue about praising kids hits pretty close to home, because I was one of those kids who got praised for being smart. And that really became my identity. It was NOT my parents "pushing" me or anything like that -- the pressure was all internal: I wasn't the pretty one, or the athletic one, or the popular one, so if I wasn't the smart one, what was left?

It definitely left me afraid to fail. Because I didn't really think I was smart; everyone said I was, but I didn't see it. When you're smart, a lot of things seem really, really simple, so you just assume that everyone else gets it, too. So when someone else gets something that you don't, you presume that other people understand everything you do plus that other stuff you don't, so they must be smarter. Every time I missed something that someone else got, it confirmed my deep fear that I really wasn't that smart after all, and that soon I would be unmasked for the charlatan I was. Took me to about 35 to realize that all those "simple" things I saw weren't necessarily so simple to everyone else. (Luckily, I did figure out that there's a lot more to life than your IQ a lot earlier on).

We're now dealing with this with my daughter. I don't know whether she's a genius or not; she's only 6, and I'm not about to run out and have her tested. But she is one of those kids who everyone sees as the smart kid, because she read early, picked up math instantly, and is high-energy and very verbal -- so when she figures something out, the whole room is going to know about it. We let her school jump her from kindergarten to second grade this year, because when she gets bored, she acts up (definitely not us "pushing" her -- we're just following her lead).

But I just don't ever praise her for being "smart." Partly because of my own experience (I don't want that to be how she defines herself), and partly because on the flip side, I don't want her to get lazy and presume that her intelligence means she doesn't have to work. And she does tend to get frustrated easily and want to give up. So I praise her for working really hard to figure out the answer, for sticking with it when she gets frustrated. But it's nice to hear that there are actually studies out there suggesting that I'm on the right track!

Oh, and, yeah, WorkingMomX, I do tell her "good job" when she walks along the pool deck -- like rockvillemom said, my kid is one of those for whom walking instead of running/skipping/hopping/etc is a real struggle. :-) I've found it MUCH more effective with her to reinforce when she does little things well than to meet her energy with criticism and punishment. I see her kind of as a ping-pong ball (my boss calls her "the electron") -- she's always careening around, bouncing off stuff. When she's met by something soft (a kind word, a short hug), it calms her down, absorbs some of that energy, and keeps things under control. But when she's met by hard words or anger, it ratchets her back up. Like freaking clockwork. So I try to operate on a fairly even keel, and keep "getting in trouble" in my back pocket for when it's really necessary.

Posted by: laura33 | February 4, 2008 10:37 AM

portuguese mother: so true. I was SO PROUD of my C+ in physics in college since I failed the first exam. The As that I got in some other classes didn't mean as much cause they were easier. But I will always remember the grade in that class, cause I busted my butt to figure everything out.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | February 4, 2008 10:42 AM

I think I did well because I learned on my own terms and I love learning. You don't have to be gifted or a genius to develop that love. You have to have the right environment, one that encourages learning and supports autonomy.

Posted by: mowilli31 | February 4, 2008 09:37 AM

This is exactly what I want my children to say when they grow up! My eldest is pretty bright and is accustomed to being seen as smart but she sure can drop the ball in the effort department if she's not interested in a subject or project.
I'm trying to chill here. I set aside time and generally push for some kind of effort at homework but I try not to hover and I let them pay the consequences if they do it late or badly.
I think studying a musical instrument provides a great example of what effort can accomplish in terms a kid can understand. You play a piece for the first time and it sounds terrible. You play it three or four times and it gets better!

Posted by: anne.saunders | February 4, 2008 10:56 AM

altmom1234 - thank you!

I could never ever admit it, but the "C" I got in two semesters of Calculus was one of the hardest earned grades I ever received.

The heck of it was that I couldn't ever boast about it because my oh-so-smart peers would have turned up their noses at me.

Just the other day my Dean's List husband, talking to our smarty pants college graduate son says, "well the derivitative is the area under the curve." So there I was Ms. Average saying - nope.

That aside. I thin this is what the speaker at the Clinton rally who said Johnson deserves more credit for civil rights than Kennedy was getting at. Kennedy, Mr. young-sexy-brilliant voiced the idea, but Johnson -sluggy old politician- made it happen. Frankly - I'm with the make it happens.

Posted by: RedBird27 | February 4, 2008 11:07 AM

Portuguese Mother -

Yes, firstborns and only children do seem to get more of this perfectionism pressure. Parents are just clueness (no comparisons) and overwhelmed with the joy and pride of having a child. Some of the expectations are constructive -- but I see (in myself and others) too much of it.

Posted by: leslie4 | February 4, 2008 11:20 AM

This is great and I think to broaden it a bit, it really does come to the heart of what a "balanced life" is about. Learning something early doesn't mean applying it effectively, and being smart is only one of the skills that is useful in adult life.

I think we need to support our kids in being who they are and socializing them so that they have the skills to be aware of others, do some good, and work at what they need to work at to get where they want to go.

"True gifted children are actually just another category of at-risk kids. Don't believe me? Talk to somebody who is/was branded "gifted" as a child."

Absolutely, absolutely true. Although maybe now with the high G&T rates, etc., it is not as bad as it was in the 70s.

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | February 4, 2008 11:21 AM

Laura - I strongly relate to your experience.
People always considered me smart (best of my year to finish HS, law school, etc.) but deep inside I just felt some kind of well accomplished fraud. I managed to acquire much more self-confidence since then but only reading your post was I able to pinpoint the exact mechanism behind it (guess YOU got what I missed :)). The bright side to it was that, never taking my so called "intelligence" for granted, I always felt I had to work hard to achieve my goals and never got sidetracked by those (many) occasions where good results came to me without effort. I assumed it was luck (I had luck with the questions, I had luck with the subject, I had a good night sleep and was thinking clearly, etc.).
BTW, loved "the electron" metaphor approach - I believe it works fine with my 4 year old daughter as well, though I have a hard time convincing DH of its merits...
Another thing: I don't think it's bad for the kids to harbor an inner drive to "be the best", as long as they acknowledge it and learn to deal with it the right way. When my 11 year old came to me in tears because he'd "only" got a B+ on his math report and was afraid of letting me down, I made him see that he was the one disappointed, only it was easier for him to believe it was the other way round. I helped him realize it was ok to feel the drive to compete and to "be the best", as long as he learned to cope with the fact that it was not going to happen all the time and that the most important was to feel he'd done HIS best.

Posted by: portuguese-mother | February 4, 2008 11:22 AM

For a lot of parents, a sense of balance about your child's "specialness" seems to arrive when you have more than one kid. When our firstborn was a year old, I started to sense how spoiled he was getting, and that was part of why we had another child. I didn't realize at the time that my husband and I were acting spoiled too -- overly focused on our child and his achievements. Natural but embarrassing!

Posted by: leslie4 | February 4, 2008 11:25 AM

"My children have normal IQs. I'm grateful for that mercy. If these braggart parents had any idea, they would shut their mouths.

Posted by: etyler | February 4, 2008 10:03 AM "

I was that kid - the one that spent all her time reading by the wall during recess or talking to the teachers because I had no friends - the one that knew every librarian by name but couldn't tell you the name of the kids in her classes - the one teachers called on to do things, but who spent every day alone on the class trip because no one wanted to talk to me.

I was tested in grade K after I refused to nap and instead wanted to read the chapter books that had been left accidentally by another teacher in our room. Scored to be over 140 IQ. Spent years in gifted, talented, IB classes (got my IB diploma, and two years of college credit with it, when I graduated).

Went to college, coasted, graduated and came home to work, only to discover that I didn't have any advantages from my IQ. Spend every day at work online 3-4 hours, working the rest of the time, and still am the 'star performer'. Bored out of my mind.

The only saving grace is my family - married to a wonderful person who can even beat me at Scrabble occasionally, daughter who I adore. If I'd had a choice, I'd be a little more average, and not pushed so much in school that average seems like failure. I won't do that to DD.

Posted by: RebeccainAR | February 4, 2008 11:38 AM

"For a lot of parents, a sense of balance about your child's "specialness" seems to arrive when you have more than one kid."
True! The second never fits in the first's "footprint", so you learn to give credit to a whole different set of skills and capacities that you may have disregarded before and at the same time realize you have over-rated the "specialness" of the firstborn's achievements

Posted by: portuguese-mother | February 4, 2008 11:38 AM

"When my 11 year old came to me in tears because he'd "only" got a B+ on his math report and was afraid of letting me down, I made him see that he was the one disappointed, only it was easier for him to believe it was the other way round."

Portuguese Mother, let me return the favor -- looks like you just saw something that I missed! :-) My 6-yr-old often comes to me in tears with "I don't want to disappoint [insert person here]." My reassurances have been very ineffective, and I HATE to see her put so much pressure on herself, especially over stupid stuff (no, you're not going to disappoint me if you don't like what I cooked for dinner). You've just given me a new way to think about what she's really saying. I actually remember a therapist telling me once that kids frequently project their emotions onto other people, because it's easier for them to deal with that way; don't know why I didn't make that connection before now (gee, must not be very smart, eh? :-) ).

Oh, FYI, the other thing I do with her is own my own failures. We tell stories all the time about how mommy or daddy messed up this or that as a kid (the most recent one was how mommy struggled with the mole in 10th grade chemistry). I figure it's good for her to learn that (a) it's ok to fail, as long as you're trying your best, and (b) the key is to keep pushing at it. Plus it's almost kinda therapy for me to admit that I struggled and screwed up on occasion. :-)

Posted by: laura33 | February 4, 2008 11:48 AM

You are all describing me. No friends in Elem school, I would sit alone and have lunch every day. I don't understand why others don't get things that seem to simple to me (but clearly not to them) - of course, other things, that seem simple (like physics, see above) kicked my butt.

And my parents had such high hopes for me. They told all of us (three) that they would pay for college, but it had to be state, cause they didn't understand why people pay more, and that's really what they could afford, anyway (yes, CSS!).

BUT for *me* they said: well, if you get into an IVY LEAGUE school, we'll figure out a way to pay for it. No, didn't get in. I guess, if I had really busted my butt in high school, I could have, but it was easy, and I guess I never had the drive. Didn't do too badly, anyway. Many people don't understand me half the time, but that's okay. Whatcha gonna do. People just think I'm some sort of math geek and move on...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | February 4, 2008 12:08 PM

Well, Laura, one of the things I love about this blog is the way we "mirror" each other's experiences with our own and get to reflect and to learn about things (btw, guess the tie means we're AS smart ;-)!)
I find personal stories very useful to teach by example. The ones about when mommy was little definitely get their attention when they are young (mommy did THAT? Wow!). As they grow up, you can share some more complex stories that take place in your current life. I also have a 18 YO sister to whom I'm very close and while she won't listen to our mother, she'll hear what I have to say and connect to the stories I share about the (perhaps avoidable) mistakes and messes I made when I was her age. I also use the stories to give her a sense of perspective and of what really matters in the long run. Hope she does the same for me when her niece & nephew hit those difficult years!

Posted by: portuguese-mother | February 4, 2008 12:18 PM

what a great post and great discussion today! my best friend in high school was incredibly skinny--skin and bones, really--and we both got depressed when we went shopping together. she hated how she looked in everything (too skinny) and i hated how i looked in everything (too fat). It was really eye-opening to realize that there really aren't "ultimate goods"--some things (like losing weight) are good for some people and awful for others. she was so incredibly frustrated, because she'd eat as much as she possibly could and still not gain weight. (it was genetic, her mom was exactly the same way.)

DandyLion, i had to laugh at your daughter's threats over a cell phone. My dad, no kidding, would have slapped me across the face and told me to get a clue if i'd DARED say something like that to him. perhaps there's a more appropriate response somewhere in the middle between his and your responses? certainly her holding you hostage and your acquiescing to it doesn't sound too good...

Posted by: newslinks1 | February 4, 2008 12:44 PM

I have to admit, however, that I benefited tremendously from the pressure my parents put on me to get good grades. Sure, there were big downsides. But in part because of their insistence that I could and should get excellent grades and be the best I could be in all areas, I did very well in school, went to Harvard and then onto Wharton business school. I've had a great career, with lots of choices along the way about how to combine work and family.

I also developed a sense of self-esteem because my parents thought so highly of my abilities.

To me, the balancing act is how much pressure is good -- it depends on the kid.

Posted by: leslie4 | February 4, 2008 1:43 PM

Newslinks, my daughter is a little upset that all her friends have a cell phone and she is losing out on the social aspect of growing up as a normal adolescent.

I can't let that happen in all good conscienceness, now can I?

My daughters have figured out that I'm a big pushover, but So what? The theory is that they will stay where they are until they either move out because they desire to live independently or can find a husband that will spoil them as much or better than I can. In any event, they take pretty good care of me. Ha!

Posted by: DandyLion | February 4, 2008 2:02 PM

DandyLion wrote: Newslinks, my daughter is a little upset that all her friends have a cell phone and she is losing out on the social aspect of growing up as a normal adolescent.

I can't let that happen in all good conscienceness, now can I?

Darn straight you can, DandyLion -- and you should! Don't let the little @#$%&*! blackmail you, and don't be afraid of your kids. You're the parent, and parents are the boss of the household/family. BTW, has your wife said "No" to the kid on this? If so, back her up and present a united front to the kid, instead of letting her play divide-and-conquer.

Posted by: mehitabel | February 4, 2008 2:33 PM


Not sure if you are really being serious or not... if I had made that comment to my parents, they would have suggested that perhaps I was being unduly influenced by my friends and needed so spend some more time apart from them. Of course, I also don't think I ever would have made such a suggestion. I used to beg my parents for things, sure, but threaten them? I can't imagine.

The problem with catering too much to your child's materialistic impulses in their teenage years is that it never seems to stop- I know plenty of people in their 20s and even their 30s who think that their parents owe them financial support, and these people never seem to be able to really grow up and support themselves.

Posted by: floof | February 4, 2008 3:02 PM


Personally, I applaud that you clearly adore your kids and I strongly suspect the feeling's mutual. My impression has been that you're raising the kind of kids who routinely go out of their way to help you and others without being asked, and if they want a few luxuries along the way, who cares?

It raises an interesting question to me. To what extent do you think your kids are impacted (good or bad) by your disability? In my case, when my mom went into a wheelchair she complained that no one ever smiled at her or talked to her anymore. So now I make a point of smiling at and talking to people in wheelchairs...

Posted by: newslinks1 | February 4, 2008 3:08 PM

Leslie, I have a question. You said "It took us more than a year to convince him that asking questions, practicing, making mistakes and learning from others is an important life skill."

My 7.5 y.o. hates to make mistakes. I know she gets it from me as I am a recovering perfectionist, but I can't see to get beyond it with her.


Posted by: Laughlin | February 4, 2008 3:34 PM

I'm surrounded by people who are much, much smarter than I am, scary smart, and I was tested at 129. (That's probably the low end of the norm for this group. I don't feel exceptionally smart, but I know I process very quickly.) None of these people seem remotely unhappy, at least not as adults. We all tended to be rebellious in our youths, and there were a LOT of drugs, but very few of us have copped to being suicidal, and most have stayed out of jail. We were just really bored at a dangerous age with permissive, uninvolved parents. My daughter will not be so "lucky."

Posted by: atb2 | February 4, 2008 3:51 PM

Newslinks, put it this way, I replaced the leaky faucet in the bathroom over the weekend. Couldn't have done it without the help of my 10 year old...

Most adults have no idea what it's like depending on children for their well being. It would take a book to describe it, but I can say one thing for sure right now, the teamwork/cooperation approach/praising is much, much more effective at getting things done and teaching kids good values than the old outdated family moddel of rules and punishments.

Posted by: DandyLion | February 4, 2008 4:25 PM

"My 7.5 y.o. hates to make mistakes. I know she gets it from me as I am a recovering perfectionist, but I can't see to get beyond it with her."

My daughter was this way in 1st and 2nd grade. I told the principal prior to 3rd grade that I wanted a teacher who would challenge her and give her harder material so she would have more experience struggling. She is now in GT and regularly has to think harder about homework than she did before. She doesn't always know things the first time around, and at every few weeks needs to ask me for help on homework. She has gotten used to asking and doesn't fall apart or fail to try if she isn't immediately successful. If you can find something that your child likes but needs to work on to "get it," that will help him/her develop the resiliency to keep trying.

Posted by: janedoe | February 4, 2008 5:09 PM

I was another one who got cursed with the label of "genius" as a child. Parents, teachers, principal, etc. no one knew what to do with me. I read everything whether it was age-appropriate or not, took every multiple-choice standardized test they could find, and always got scores that were off the scales. Those things didn't make me a genius, they're just very narrow skills that confused people who didn't have them.

I couldn't make a friend... I'm still not very good at socializing, and I'd rather spend an hour in my garden than at a party. I'm pretty sure there was some childhood depression that went undiagnosed, and I made a suicide attempt at 16...

I'm a reasonably happy adult, but I married a man who's definitely smarter than I am, and he has the people-smarts I lack, so I can depend on him for knowing whom to trust and when.

That genius-thing isn't happening to my kids! We talk all the time about how brains all work differently, how some people are good at one thing, and others are good at something else.

Older son may be having some depression issues around his autism, but when his piano teacher does ear-training, perfect pitch and perfect relative pitch (a rare combination!) give him a chance to excel.

Younger son has an easier time with school and with people, but works much harder at music lessons. He has musical talent, just not the same level as his big brother.

There's lots of other this-is-easy/strengths vs work-hard-at-challenges opportunities for both boys. I think they need to see that everyone has things that come easily, and things that are hard work, and respect effort.

Posted by: sue | February 4, 2008 6:02 PM

Ditto what sue and many other "former gifted" students have said. Sure, you should try and make sure your child is engaged in school, but the over-push just doesn't do anything.

I know a lot of my former "gifted" colleagues have normal lives now...after emotional blow-outs in their late teens and 20's. Because there's only so much a young psyche can handle after a while.

Your children should be your children first. Sure they're smart, but they are still children with the equivalent emotional growth, and that emotional growth is more important in the long run to a happy, successful life.

So praise effort...but don't punish failure where effort was put in.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | February 5, 2008 10:03 AM

I totally agree. After my son learned that his IQ was above average and put in the "gifted" catagory, he stopped trying,put forth less effort and his scores dropped. His docter told him he was screwed when he took those tests because so more is expected of him, and putting even more pressure on him to perform academically.

I wish now that we had never revealed his test results to him.

Posted by: morningglory51 | February 6, 2008 7:46 AM

I'm obviously a mother but I also believe in teaching/coaching children in their chosen sport. I played almost every competitive sport in high school but it wasn't until I had children that I became interested in passing my knowledge and love of the game down to others. I'm qualified to coach in basketball, baseball,soccer and hockey. I got involved when I realized there were not a lot of females involved in girls sports and I felt that they should see a qualified and knowledgable women doing what they were suppose to do. I also believe that boys should also see women in a coaching roll. I was not prepared for the parents version of the perfect practice not game. It still amazes me to this day (my oldest started organized sports when when she was five) how parents feel that every move or task carried out by their children must have an "awesome" or "great" attached to it. Children respond to the parent/coach depending on how they have carried out the drill. For example, a very small five year old may take all year to score one basket. It is in their effort that they receive praise i.e "Oh my God! you almost got one in as opposed to an older child who simply goes through the motions and is told that it was a good attempt but perhaps they can do better. It is certain parents that demand that everything in their children's lives be great, an awesome experience. We are setting our children up for failure if we keep telling them that everything that they do is great or (hate the word) awesome. There has to be accountablity on their(kids) part as well. It is perhaps why some parents will make sure that their child is always on the best team despite the fact that this child does not have the talent or that they will talk to the teacher so that their child will receive better marks. My children have been there and done that. I can tell you that I have three children who can lead a team and be that team player who raises the others on the team to play better without resorting to negative comments. They have also learned that some kids at school are allowed to cheat (cut and paste direct passages to their projects or have Daddy make them their 18th century farm cabin or medevil war device. My kids will be the next coaches that the next generation will want to have but perhaps I've spoken too soon as this generation of kids will require the coaches their kids get to treat them with kid gloves. It is a scary thougt.

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