5 Tips for Parents of Very Bright Children

Raising a very bright child has unique challenges, here are solutions.

Posted Jun 04, 2018

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It's easy to assume that raising a very bright child will be a piece of cake, but that isn't always the case.  Here are some common traps to watch out for and what to do.  

Note:  If you're the type of parent who is reading this post, you're probably someone who is highly motivated to do the best for your child.  These points are intended as minor tweaks and reminders not major criticisms.  If you see any areas for improvement, also remind yourself of everything you're doing right. 

1. People typically treat children based on their level of verbal fluency. 

If your two year old has the verbal skills of the average three year old, people will generally treat them like a three year old and expect them to have the emotion skills and self-control etc of a three year old.

Solution: Notice when you or other people are doing this and adjust accordingly.  Even treating a young child is six months older than they are can be significant in terms of your expectations of their behavior. 

2. Equally praise qualities other than smarts.

It's not helpful for your child to think that most of their worth comes from their exceptional intelligence

Solution: Comment on other qualities like being kind, considerate, thoughtful, enthusiastic , brave etc at least as often as you commend smart behavior.  Make sure your child understands that they have many great qualities and do many great things, and their brainiac behaviors are only a small portion of these. Continue to do this as your child ages.  Teens need diverse praise and encouragement too, especially when they've started to internalize academic pressures and expectations.

3. Acting out can be a result of over-stimulating or under-stimulating your child.

It's easy to worry that a very bright child isn't going to be stimulated enough.  This can result in packing their schedule with all sorts of activities for them to try.   Another trap can be constantly teaching them. 

Solution:   Not everything needs to be a learning experience.  Don't make every activity about learning new vocabulary, concepts or skills.   Let simple activities be just that e.g., hanging out at home and helping with indoor and outdoor tasks - vacuuming, watering the garden etc.  

If your child has a natural love of learning, that's a huge strength that will serve them well throughout their life.  Follow their lead in terms of letting them communicate what they're interested in at what stage.

4. Save your boasting for conversations with Grandma or your co-parent.

It's completely natural if you want to talk about all the great things your child is doing.  You're proud and excited.  However, you probably want to save those stories till you're talking to people who will be similarly excited.  Social comparison between children is very difficult to resist and other parents may feel anxious that their child isn't doing what your's is. Don't beat yourself up if you accidentally boast from time to time, but expect that it might impact your relationships.  Perhaps other people shoudn't be so sensitive to social comparison, but in reality they probably are. 

Solution: You can read some tips for dealing with competitive parenting in this article - How to stop competitive parenting from ruining your friendships.

5. There are two types of bright kids.

There are two types of bright kids - those who have a relatively uniform cognitive profile, meaning that all their main cognitive skills are at a similar level, and those who have a more uneven cognitive profile.  At some point, you may want to have your child tested to see their strengths and weaknesses in different domains of cognition.   If your child is fine and happy, you probably don't need to do this, but if you're concerned about them academically, behaviorally, or emotionally, then cognitive testing is potentially a good thing to do.

The typical test used for this is called the WISC (pronounced "whisk" like the kitchen tool).  Other tests may be used in conjunction with this test,  but the WISC should generally form the core of the assessment with other tests being adjuncts and providing additional information.  Having your child tested can also help you know if they really are exceptionally bright or if you're overestimating.  

Solution: Many bright kids struggle with some specific skills, such as handwriting. They may need accommodations due to this, like being able to type in class or for tests.  This helps kids not become frustrated when they can't express their ideas in handwriting. 

Another common issue that a child may be very good at reading but not be comprehending what they're reading at the same level.  If you over-assume what they comprehend, you might be prone to, for instance, expecting them to understand too complex instructions or concepts.  Having a clinical or educational psychologist do a full assessment of your child and write a report for you with recommendations will help you understand issues like this. 

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