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Oct 17 2011

Ask Bubbe: My Child, the Genius

By at 9:58 am

Dear Bubbe,

My 2.5-year-old son is really developmentally ahead of everyone else — talking, walking, teething, clever observations. Does that mean he’ll be a genius for life? Seriously, though, what should I do to keep him challenged and intellectually stimulated?

Jodie

Dear Jodie,

So it’s hard for me to separate the parental pride from the objective fact, but if you say he is more advanced than his peers, I believe you.

There is no doubt that some little ones are really bright sparks, whether physically or behaviorally, way ahead of their peers or even siblings. And we are often a bit conflicted as to what to do with this. We all want normal, happy children who fit in, who do well enough in learning, and who are pleasant, nice, kind people. But we don’t always get what we want.

I don’t need to tell you that people come in an endless spectrum of ability and personality, and some kids can be real challenges. “Severely gifted” children are an example here; the fear is that the child may become arrogant and unbearable or won’t have any friends. What do you do with a child who seems to display innate talent, whether in math or music,  drawing or athleticism?

If you advance them to their standard, they will be mixing it with the “big boys,” literally, and that can create social dislocation. If you don’t advance, then you risk the child becoming bored and disruptive.

And will a bright toddler inevitably be a genius? Well, no. They can drive you nuts with the “Why?” questions, but that doesn’t mean they are geniuses.

Books,  trikes or bikes, puzzles, nature walks, and outings to appropriate museums are all food for the brain. Try out music, dance, movement, or martial arts–something that needs application and discipline. It is very rare to find a person who has succeeded purely on natural talent without a hell of a lot of hard work.

I think the key is to nurture the talent, but not to neglect the rest of the child. We don’t want to be “Tiger Mothers.” We want the child to develop his potential; we want to avoid boredom in the classroom; we want him to have good friends and to be a good friend. Proverbs says “Chanoch hana’ar al pi darko,” which means “educate the child according to his path.” In other words, avoid a cookie-cutter approach to his education.

Give compliments and give credit, but don’t keep saying how smart your child is. It has been shown to create anxiety in the child, because if he sees himself valued just for being smart, he will worry about not being smart enough all the time. Acknowledge, as for any child, not just the final score, but the effort it took to get there.

And don’t get lost in “kinderbewunderung,” where you are in awe of every little gem of wisdom your child drops. You will be terribly boring to all your friends. Having kids isn’t a competition although you could be forgiven for thinking so, the way some parents behave.

It doesn’t matter how smart or quick or brilliant or not; every child needs to be raised with a combination of chesed (loving, kindness, warmth, affection) and gevurah (boundaries, guidance, discipline). Finding the balance is always a challenge.

And give lots of hugs.

Love, Bubbe


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