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Psychology Today

Psychology magazine published every two months in the United States.

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Ten Tips for Parents of a Smart Child

01/23/2018 06:00AM | 567 views

by Marty Nemko Ph.D.

What can parents do to help raise a gifted child?

All children are entitled to a fair chance to live up to their potential. That includes intellectually bright and gifted kids. After all, they're the most likely to cure cancer, become wise leaders, create another Google or iPhone. Especially if you feel the schools aren’t adequately helping your child live up to his or her potential, these tips for parents might help, even help a lot.

Do nothing. What, do nothing?! Yes. The good news is that bright and gifted kids left to their own devices usually have the brainpower to come up with activities for themselves that are appropriately difficult and of interest at that time. We as parents, or even educators, are just guessing. So don’t over-schedule your child. Allow him or her time to imagine, create games out of nothing, and yes, use the computer.

Google is your friend. Today, a mere Google search, perhaps with you alongside your child, can unearth remarkable educational and entertaining websites and apps, including those using Virtual Reality. An inexpensive VR headset enables your child to become immersed in everything from outer space to the inside of the human body to a dinosaur-filled prehistoric era. Also, HoagiesGifted.org offers a wealth of resources: tips for parents to lesson plans for teachers, advice for counselors, and schools and summer camps specializing in smart kids.

Ask more; tell less. All kids, but especially bright and gifted ones, grow from being asked open-ended questions rather than being lectured to. For example, as you’re driving, look for opportunities to ask moderately challenging questions, for example, “What do you see as the pros and cons of having speed limits?” When your child comes home late to dinner, instead of a lecture, you might ask, “How do you think we should deal with this?”

And what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, so encourage your child to ask you and others “why” questions. Yes, it can be exhausting if your child is constantly asking 'why', but take solace that it’s both a sign of intelligence and a sure way to help your child grow. 

Get a smart caretaker. Especially if you’re working full-time, consider getting a smart, kind college student to, for example, pick your child up from school, drive to activities, help with homework, and yes, have fun. Often a college student is happy to share a hobby with your child, whether acting, sports, crafts, whatever.

Encourage good friendships; prohibit bad ones. There’s some evidence that peers may influence a child more than a parent does. Whether or not that’s true, peers certainly matter. So suggest that your child invite smart and nice kids to your home and accompany you on family day trips and vacations. And if there’s a child you’re confident isn’t a good influence, don’t be afraid to prohibit your child from seeing that kid. Yes, s/he may rebel and perhaps sneak but, in general, as long as you give a good reason and try to get your child’s assent, it’s worth taking a stand.

Choose your child’s school carefully. Even if you had the time, volunteering in your child’s class or running the bake sale or even being active in the PTA may not be the most potent way to help ensure your child gets a good education. The one-time effort to choose a school is more important. Do choose a school, public or private, in which there are lots of smart kids, although it’s a personal choice whether to choose a school with maximum academic rigor or one more oriented to the whole child. How to check out a school? Get the principal’s permission to walk down the halls and peek into classrooms. Can you see your child fitting in? Hang out on the playground. Is the peer interaction generally kind?

Ask for a particular teacher, occasionally. It’s important for your child to have teachers attuned to bright and gifted kids, and if needed, active, spacey, whatever your child is. Remember, that in elementary school, your child will be with that teacher for six hours a day for 180 days.

It's unrealistic and perhaps unfair to, every year, ask the principal that your child be placed with the most appropriate teacher. But usually, once or twice in elementary school, there’s one teacher at the upcoming grade who would be far better for your child. That, of course, is less important in later years, when a student usually has a given teacher for just one period. But even then, for a course that is your child’s particular interest, strength, or weakness, it may be worth asking other parents, a guidance counselor, and your child to see if a particular teacher is worth asking for.

Skip a grade(s?) If your child is significantly more academically advanced than the students in his or her grade, consider asking the principal or counselor about skipping a grade or even more than one. The evidence is clear that it can be a big plus. Even if the child's social skills aren't advanced, the benefit often outweighs the liability, especially if the receiving teacher is pleased to accept the child and pairs the child with a bright, popular, kind child in that class.

You can only refine, not remold your child. Don’t try to turn your bookish kid into a social butterfly, your reticent child into a bold leader, your laid-back kid into a driven one. Sure, encourage a reasonable work ethic. Sure, expose your child to music lessons, soccer, leadership, whatever, but if early signs are of little interest and less talent, honor your child’s individuality—Consider building on strengths rather than remediate weaknesses. As long as your child is behaving ethically and kindly, honor your child’s individuality as you’d want others to honor yours.

Your child is a human being, not just a brainUnless your child is one of those rare birds who loves been intellectually challenged all the time, leave ample space for the non-intellectual areas of his or her interest: whether sports, the arts, or even, yes, an hour or two a night of TV or video games. They’re more benign than some would have us believe.

Summary

1. Do nothing. Leave your child ample space to create their own activities.

2. Google is your friend. Use it, as well as HoagiesGifted.org, to identify after-school and summer resources tailored to your child’s ability and interests.

3. Ask more; tell less. Ask lots of open-ended questions and encourage your child to ask them of you.

4. Get a smart caretaker. Considering hiring a bright, kind, interesting college student to, for example, pick your child up from school and preside over afternoon and perhaps weekend activities.

5. Encourage good friendships and prohibit bad ones. Invite bright, good kids to your home and on outings. Prohibit interaction with kids you’re confident are a bad influence.

6. Choose your child’s school carefully. Make the one-time effort to choose your child’s school: one in which there are many smart kids, in which teachers seem to meet the needs of kids like yours, and where interaction on the playground is generally kind.

7. Ask for a particular teacher, occasionally. Keep your ears to the ground for teachers that would be particularly good or bad for your child. Occasionally, ask the principal if your child might be placed in that better-suited class or not in that ill-suited one.

8. Skip a grade or three? That can be among your most beneficial interventions, even if the child is only academically but not socially precocious.

9. You can refine but rarely remold your child. Honor his or her basic nature and where possible, build on strengths rather than remediate weaknesses.

10. Finally, accept that your smart child isn’t just a brain but a human being. Allow sufficient opportunities for your child to explore his or her other aspects.

In having a smart child, you’ve been given a gift. Your efforts can go a long way toward helping your child live up to his or her potential, and to becoming a happier child and, you in turn, a happier parent.

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