The Word I Almost Never Call my Kids



Typically I blog about theology, culture, politics, and sometimes teaching. Forgive me for sharing a parenting issue, but I need some catharsis.

Two of my three kids are academically “gifted,” but I almost never say that. Parents like me learn to be careful where they use the g-word. Kyla reads at an eleventh grade level. She participates in a program called SAVY, which offers accelerated curriculum to kids like her. When George was old enough to participate in the program, he took an I.Q. test to see if he qualified (which he did). The person who administered the test also interacted with Connor a bit and said, “I expect we’ll be seeing him in a few years.” So, chances are, we will be 3-for-3…whatever that means.

My kids do amazing things. Yes, I recognize all kids do amazing things. I do not want to be one of those parents who goes around irritating others by bragging on his kids’ accomplishments. But I sometimes feel a bit cheated. Our culture tends to recognize and praise some abilities more than others, like sports. For instance, last fall George’s soccer team was beaten by double digits. The other team had one kid who was a prodigy; he could have been no older than five. He handled a soccer ball like he came kicking it straight from the womb! The highlight of the game was when he ran down field and found the goal surrounded. He apprised the situation for a second, then tipped his foot underneath the ball and casually lofted it over the heads of both teams, casually scoring what may have been his 15th goal. Everybody cheered, including our team. It was an amazing sight!

Academic gifts are harder to cheer, in part because they are less visible, but also because it is considered rude to point them out. So I have to watch how I cheer my kids. Some parents and teachers feel like when you call your kid “smart” you are calling other kids “dumb.” They can get defensive and sometimes downright oppositional! For example, my wife once mentioned to a friend that Kyla might be gifted, but the response was sharp and immediate, “No. I think she’s normal!” Of course, Stephanie never said Kyla was abnormal, just that she seemed to learn pretty quickly. When it comes to school, the mom of another gifted child advised me never to tell my kids’ teachers that our children were smart. When this mom told her teachers that her son was gifted (he taught himself to read before he was four), they spent the next year trying to prove her wrong. I’ve heard other parents tell stories like this about their own children.

I have yet to hear anybody say “gifted” means “better.” Giftedness means a child is ahead of the curve in some areas of cognition. Usually they are asynchronous. Kyla is an advanced reader, but only a little above average when it comes to math.

Some might say that my complaints sound a lot like “white people’s problems.” I see their point, but I make no apologies for wanting the best for my kids. All the research confirms that gifted kids need to learn at an accelerated pace in order to thrive. They have special needs, and, just like kids with below average IQs, gifted kids need special services and interventions. (That is why gifted education falls under special education.)

I wish I could cheer for my kids the way I cheered for the soccer prodigy. I have to congratulate them softly and praise them in hushed tones. I also have to remind them not to suggest to other people that they are smart. “Never say ‘gifted’ out loud!” I warn them, “You might make other people feel bad.” Of course I do not want my kids to be haughty or prideful, but I sometimes worry that I have to lean too far in the other direction. I worry that I am teaching them to be ashamed of their minds.

I think all kids deserve public lauds for their talents, whether those talents are in the performing arts, sports, or academics. But because some parents, kids, and teachers feel that calling one child smart is calling another child dumb, I struggle to find the right balance. I am proud of my kids. I want them to be proud of themselves, but I often feel like I am telling them to hide their lights under a bushel – at least in certain company – because I do not want them to be harshly treated for the gifts God gave them.

3 thoughts on “The Word I Almost Never Call my Kids”

  1. Also….I re-read my post and it sounded harsh – didn’t mean it to sound that way. I should have added :-) and LOL or something! Actually I enjoyed your post and can relate to what you have said, but your last paragraph struck me though. It would be tragic if you taught them not to let their lights shine – But let them earn the wattage, if you know what I mean.:-)

  2. Outwardly praising their giftedness or, on the other hand, asking them to hide it can both be destructive choices.

    Look at Carol Dweck’s research – praising kids for being smart can actually undermine their own confidence. Praising them when they put great effort into something, goes much farther in increasing children’s confidence and motivation. Also kids who are gifted in some areas and average or below average in others sometimes don’t feel so smart, and when people keep telling them how smart they are – they sometimes don’t believe it, they feel like frauds.

    Also regardless of what children score on IQ tests or neuropsychological exams, this means nothing if they do not fulfill their potential. But these tests are very important and parents must advocate for their children’s needs to be met, including gifted children.

    So, while I understand from personal experience where you are coming from, I would say, don’t sweat it. It is twisted for people to take it as an insult to their child if you say your own child is smart, but in a way, focusing too much on a child’s God-given giftedness is a bit like focusing on the color of their hair or eyes. They had nothing to do with it. It’s what they actually do with their smarts and hearts that counts. Praise the heck out of them for trying hard, refusing to give up, for winning and succeeding when they do win and succeed, for using their gifts and for being good Christians and you will all be just fine.

  3. Really nice read, David! Thanks for writing this! I understand what you’re saying and doing totally. If you haven’t your children scored on a multiple intelligences inventory, I’d advise you to do that. This will help focus beyond the Intelligence Quotient and give them some areas to really be aware of and focus on (and it will probably help their school teachers too). Although I am sad to say I agree that many times the words “My child is gifted” to a teacher are met with an “Oh really? Let’s see how I can prove otherwise” attitude. This is changing as I meet teachers who take courses on teaching gifted students (I took two courses as part of my special education degree). I think these courses help the teachers feel more secure in their ability to acknowledge and assist the growth of the gifted child as well as the other children in a public school classroom. Plus any special courses and camps you can put your children in are the best — as you know! You’re a great dad! (And Stephanie’s a great Mom! So expect you to have great kids AND I’m not surprised they’re gifted in intelligence either) God bless you!


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