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What Should I Do with My Smart Child?

If you’re reading this, it’s safe to say that you are one of those parents that want the best for your kid. Your child has high potential to excel academically, but how do you best nurture this potential?

Here are a few tips on how to help your child climb the academic ladder most effectively:


Foster Academics at Home

Academic success for a child starts in the home. One of the first steps is helping your child maintain a healthy diet. Healthy diets and adequate sleep promote learning in the classroom by increasing their ability to pay attention and absorb information.

Reading with them as a young child, and encouraging them to read as they grow, promotes vocabulary, reading comprehension, and writing skills. Need help coming up with books to read with your kids?

Check out this article by our learning expert Dr. Craig Pohman.


Instill a Sense of Hard Work and Motivation

As a parent, you are your child’s first and most influential role model. You son’s or daughter’s initial and core value system will be based on your own. As your child is growing and learning to make sense of the world around them (even in their teenage years when they think they have everything figured out), one of your prime jobs is to instill a proper value system.

For your child with a high intelligence, hard-work, self-motivation, and education are key values that will serve them well. They will reach a time in their lives when they will not have to work hard to do well in school. All they will have to do is coast by and they will still surpass many of their peers. While this works through high school, and possibly college, it does not fly with employers.

“if you show your child that working hard and taking responsibility is a good thing, then it will more strongly instill in them these values”

Your job is to make sure this doesn’t happen by valuing these things yourself. There is a wise saying I once heard that goes: monkey see, monkey do. Although this phrase is a little elementary, it still rings true.

A study by a professor at the University of Michigan (source below) stated that “in the academic domain, parents’ values predicted youths’ values directly.” The study continues on to say that “these findings highlight the potential role of parents as socializers of achievement-related values, and, ultimately, adolescents’ occupational visions of themselves in the future.”

Children learn their values through observing and modeling their parents. If you always look for the easy way out of work or always choose Netflix over getting some yard work done, then it’s likely your child will learn to do the same thing.

But if you show your child that working hard and taking responsibility is a good thing, then it will more strongly instill in them these values that will enhance and build upon the intelligence they already have. Intelligence mixed with hard-work is a solid recipe leading to a high potential for success.


Encourage Interaction Between Siblings

If you have more than one child, encourage the older one(s) to help the younger one(s) with homework. Unless you’re an engineer or scientist when was the last time you did the math that required more than simple algebra or had to know the atomic makeup of a chemical?

I remember going to my mom many times as a kid with questions about whatever math I was in at the time. Before I could get my question out, she would send me to my older brother.

“Academic success for a child starts in the home.”

This interaction between older and younger siblings is beneficial to both parties. The younger siblings are more likely to get better explanations than if they asked you as a parent simply because the information is fresher to the older siblings who learned it two or three years ago instead of twenty or more years ago.

Surprisingly, this interaction may be more beneficial to the older sibling than the younger one. By teaching the younger sibling, the older sibling more strongly cements the topic into his/her mind while learning how to more effectively communicate and explain complex ideas. While high school chemistry might not directly tie into their adult lives, these skills will.


Allow a Healthy Sense of Competition

If you have multiple children, you might notice that there can be times of competitiveness between them. Facilitated correctly this can be beneficial to the academics of your children.

Alfred Adler talked about how “competition with the first-born may serve to motivate the second-born, who may try to catch up and surpass the older sibling, a goal that spurs language and motor development in the second-born.” (source below). The younger child strives towards the older child providing academic motivation.

But encouraging this competition can be a bit of a balancing act. Adler’s theory also goes that “second-borns may feel that they can never surpass the firstborns and may give up trying.” (source below). I have a brother who is almost six years older than me. He is incredibly smart. I look up to him as my role model and excelled through elementary and middle school so that I could be like him.

By the time high school started I got it in my mind that I would never be as smart as him so I should stop trying. As a result, my work-ethic dropped drastically.

My competition with my brother was not the only cause of my declining motivation; I was a teenager struggling with who I wanted to be in this world. However, my competition with him was definitely a factor.

“competition with the first-born may serve to motivate the second-born.”

As a parent, there are some things you can do to help lessen, or even possibly avoid, this scenario. While encouraging some sibling completion, don’t compare one sibling to the other. Encourage the idea that they are their own person and have different strengths and weakness.

It’s idiosyncrasies that make them who they are. By praising some of these idiosyncrasies, it allows for your child to gain worth based on their qualities and not the qualities of their sibling(s). As discussed above, modeling good values will give your child a good start on how to interpret life.


Be Intentional About School Programs

My final recommendation is to look at programs at the surrounding schools. If you want to know if you should get your child’s IQ tested, read this short article. The short answer is yes, but each child has different needs.

While the term ‘gifted’ differs slightly from state to state, the National Association for Gifted Children defines it as “individuals…who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as an exceptional ability to reason and learn) or competence (documented performance or achievement in top 10% or rarer) in one or more domains.

Domains include any structured area of activity with its own symbol system (e.g., mathematics, music, language) and/or set of sensorimotor skills (e.g., painting, dance, sports).” For your child to be moved into gifted programs, schools may require an IQ test and/or teacher recommendation.

There are multiple types of program types for gifted students, depending on the school, but they all generally fall into three main categories: ability grouping, tracking, and acceleration. Ability grouping puts students of the same ability into the same classroom, or group, to create a homogeneous environment of learning.

“My final recommendation is to look at programs at the surrounding schools.”

For gifted students, this can create an environment which better stimulates their learning. Tracking is similar to ability grouping but more directly influences the child’s academic track. Schools that specialize in STEM or the arts are perfect examples of tracking. Acceleration allows for the child to move through school and subject material at an increased rate.

These programs can be greatly beneficial to your child. I was ability grouped starting in third grade, proceeding through the end of high school, and accelerated in math in fifth grade.

Looking back, that was the best thing for my academic career. It allowed for more advanced material and conversations so that I could stay engaged in class. This meta-analysis of over 100 years of research (source below) shows:

  • “Students benefited from within-class grouping, cross-grade subject grouping, and special grouping for the gifted,” (p. 889). These are all types of ability grouping.
  • “Gifted students benefited greatly from being in special groups or programs that were specifically designed to serve them,” (p. 889).
  • “Acceleration has a positive, near moderate, and statistically significant impact on accelerated students’ academic achievement,” (p. 890).

The summary of those three points is that gifted students benefit from most ability grouping programs as well as from being in accelerated programs. Raising a child is difficult, and raising a gifted child is no exception to that.

The good news is that if you made it this far into this article you are invested in, and care deeply for, your child, and that goes a long way. Below are a couple resources that you might find helpful!



Parents’ Roles in Shaping Early Adolescents’ Occupational Aspirations by Kathleen M. Jodi in the journal Child Development, Aug. 2001

Theories of Personality by Duane P. Schultz p. 119

What One Hundred Years of Research Says About the Effects of Ability Grouping and Acceleration on K-12 Students’ Academic Achievement: Findings of Two Second-Order Meta-Analyses by Saiying Steenbergen-Hu in the journal Review of Educational Research, Dec. 2016

Psych Bytes Interns
These articles were written by our wonderful interns at Psych Bytes!


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