Can Everyone's Kid Really Be Gifted?

Can Everybody's Kid Really Be Gifted?Can Everybody's Kid Really Be Gifted?We are one of the few parents around who doesn't think our preschooler is gifted. Maybe our expectations for what qualifies as "smart" are too high. But at this point, we're thinking Laszlo is "above average." At best. We hope.

When Laszlo was one-year-old, one mom with a daughter the same age talked about how intelligent her daughter was, claiming she knew "around 100 words." But pediatricians say that toddlers who have just turned one should speak approximately 12 words: And the meaning of "words" at that age is vague. This one-year-old seemed somewhat mute. I had never heard her say more than two "words," one of which was "ba-ba." Which she said when pointing at birds.

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A dad I know said that his daughter could count to 20 in Spanish even though she was not yet two-years-old and Spanish was not their second language. "She's very smart," her dad said. Not only did I never hear his daughter perform this stunt, but his genius daughter was kind of a brat. She hit kids at the playground and talked back to her father. If this kid was very smart, I was fine with having an "above average at best" toddler.

A security guard who I always chat with at my local grocery store told me that his preschool kid tested into a gifted program. This guy may be the only parent I believe. Tests were taken. Gifted-ness was possibly proven. I wish these other parents would show me test results before blabbing on about how brilliant their little ones are.

Even if these kids are highly intelligent, I suspect most of them are going to level out soon enough. Joel and I are living proof of that. According to Joel's parents, he taught himself to read at age 3. He was in the gifted program at his school. But he still can't tell left from right most of the time. I was one of only two kids out of over 100 students deemed "gifted" in early elementary school. My most gifted talent is writing a Babble column that nobody reads.

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It's stupid to judge a kid's intelligence at such a young age. Besides, even if you think your child is smart or gifted, you shouldn't say it out loud. According to "How Not to Talk to Your Kids," an article by Po Bronson, studies show that most students who are labeled "gifted" don't value the importance of effort. Because they have been told that they have a natural talent, they don't try as hard. So, telling your kids that they're smart may cause them to underperform. If their abilities are supposedly based on an innate intelligence, they won't try as hard and they will feel hopeless and give up when they don't immediately do well at something. In a series of research experiments, it was discovered that children who were told that they "worked really hard" at something outperformed children who were told that they "must be smart."

It also comes down to control. It's important that children feel that their level of effort yields rewards. "Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child's control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure."

Of course you should praise your child. But it shouldn't be because he is "smart" or "gifted." It should be because of an effort that was put forth. Or a specific thing that she succeeded at.

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At first, I was worried that I seem to be the only one who doesn't think her kid is a genius. But now that I've read about these studies, I'm comforted by the fact that I haven't spent the past three years telling my son he's smart. Still, 85 percent of American parents think it's important to tell their kids that they're smart. My unscientific focus group of almost every parent I've met, corroborates that 85 percent them are talking about about smart their kids are: To them and to me. But it's detrimental to their kids. And more importantly, it annoys the heck out of me.

- By Cassandra Barry

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Cassandra Barry is sometimes known for playing the role of "my lovely wife" in Joel Stein's columns for Time magazine and other publications. His story in which she ate her own placenta in pill form is the one she's most often asked about. Her son, Laszlo, is in preschool. After several years in New York City, she loves living in Los Angeles, where she works as a textile designer. She finds it weird to write about herself in the third person like this.

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