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Parents of Gifted Kids: SHUT UP!

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Dani Klein Modisett: "Billy, what kind of dinosaur is that?" a mom with a dark, curly ponytail asked her 2 1/2-year-old after Mommy and Me class recently. Our kids were too busy playing to leave, so she and I were marooned in that place where moms of young children often find themselves. We were standing together with nothing in common but adventurous children and a lot of dead air.

Mystified Mom

"Billy loves dinosaurs," she said, rolling her eyes in a my-child-is-so-exhaustingly-gifted way.

"Really," I responded. (It's a word I frequently use when I have nothing else to add but it's clear the other person has more to say on the subject.)

"Sure," she said. "There's a program on PBS that's all about dinosaurs -- in a vérité style -- and Billy can just watch it for hours."

Interesting, I thought, because my boys are suckers for SpongeBob, but what really gets them excited is iCarly. It dawned on me that my permissiveness in exposing my kids to pop culture might be putting them at an intellectual disadvantage.

"Billy, what kind of dinosaur is that?" the mom asked her son again -- this time with a tad more urgency. I looked at Billy expectantly, wondering if his glazed-over eyes meant he was scanning his tiny genius brain through billions of dinosaur images he had catalogued in there.

Then he burped.

"Billy!" his mother said, blushing. "Come on, honey, I know you know it ...."

"Um ... Ru ... Ru ...," Billy stuttered.

"Rhoetosaurus! That's right! Good for you, honey!" she squealed.

Just then, my son spotted a bee in the sandbox lying very still. The bee's future didn't look bright.

"Mama! A bee!" Gideon shouted to me.

I was tempted to say, "Gideon loves bees ... we raise them in our backyard so he can chart their growth," but I didn't have the energy. Anyway, the Mama Rose of Pre-K (see "Gypsy," the musical) beat me to the punch.

"Billy, it's a bee!" she exclaimed. "What do bees eat?" (Now I had the blank face. Do they eat honey, or make honey? Crazy, but under pressure I couldn't remember.) "We talked about this earlier this morning, Billy, didn't we?"

You did?!I thought.You talked about pollen (thank God the answer came to me) at 7 AM?

"P ... p ... pollen!" Billy yelled. Good for him. Then again, if I'd gottenquizzed on facts over Cheerios, I could have pulled it out quicker, too. Meanwhile, my son was focused on pulling the bee's wings off.

"That's not a good idea, Gideon," I said. "He could give you an ow-ie." (Pronounced "Ow! Eeee." That's what we call pain in our house. Not a real word. Could I be failing my son any more?)

As we piled into the car, I really did feel bad. (Or is it badly?) All kidding aside ... what if I'm not stuffing enough facts/figures/skills into my children? I've never read any book on this, but I really like children who laugh. And who give and get a lot of hugs. And who dance wildly when they hear music, even if it's Kei. (Blech -- but the girl understands rhythm.)

Obviously, I want my kids to read and write, but is it wrong that I don't need them to speak three languages and quote Nietzsche at age 5? And furthermore, the parents of kids who can do all this need to stop acting like it's all an accident. After all, when my 2-year-old tells a knock-knock joke, I don't pretend I didn't teach it to him. I just smile proudly and say, "Yeah, I've been coaching him for six months and he just started nailing it!"

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22 comments so far | Post a comment now
Katie's Mom May 21, 2010, 2:01 PM

Heehee - This made me laugh on a dull Friday afternoon.
It doesn’t change as they get older. Now my eldest is in college (after a not-very-illustrious high school career)I get to listen to all the achievements of the college-age progeny.
The strange thing is that at this level my kid is doing just as well if not better than any of them. Why? Because she has great people skills and a wonderful sense of humor - and has learned enough about herself to know what she is good at and passionate about.
So I don’t regret the Power Rangers and letting her watch Wizard of Oz over and over until the tape broke 8^)

Woodah May 21, 2010, 3:25 PM


friend May 21, 2010, 4:03 PM

LOL… i love your humorous honesty in this piece. i hate it when parents brag about how smart or cute their kids are too, i don’t blame you. but sometimes, they’re not intentional. about how to raise them, balance is key. you want them to be happy and loving, be hip and have great people skills, and at the same time be smart and have good verbal skills as well… really, who doesn’t, right? but depending on the child, some need more discipline and structure than others, some absorb more information quicker than others… you just don’t want them to develop a habit or idea that learning is boring and studying is a drag. it’s not advisable in this country where underage employment is frowned upon and dropouts are less employment/income friendly. nonetheless, what’s really most important is a healthy, happy person who can give back to society in a positive way.

Anonymous May 22, 2010, 10:22 AM

Gifted kids are real and it’s not always easy to be their parents. It’s not fun to have people complain and roll their eyes and make jokes when your kids are just being themselves. Most parents of gifted kids learn early to avoid discussing what their kids can do or even to downplay it. This isn’t always easy with small kids who haven’t learned to hide their abilities yet. Plus sometimes other parents watch your kid and start making the comparisons themselves. The worst is when they see your kid and decide it’s time for them to start pushing their own kid. I don’t know what was going on with the woman you met at the playground, but there really are kids who learn amazing things or teach themselves without being pushed by their parents. Also, learning words that sound long to us isn’t so unusual to little kids who care more about whether or not dinosaurs are interesting. Don’t be too quick to judge other parents. Just enjoy your kids.

Em May 22, 2010, 10:32 AM

Honestly, the conversation you described didn’t make it sound like she was hoping her kid was a genius. It just sounded like your typical awkward talk with a stranger about stuff her kid likes. I agree that parents that try too hard are annoying but this doesn’t seem the case here. It’s hardly Nietzsche to know what pollen is, lol!

anon May 22, 2010, 12:21 PM

Okay, yes, that mom was annoying. Her kid isn’t gifted, her kid is repeating what mommy drilled into him.

Jen L. May 22, 2010, 5:25 PM

Fantastic post! I run into this all the time at the playground. It makes me want to punch people.

E May 22, 2010, 5:51 PM

Moms like you are the reason I rarely make conversation with the other parents at soccer or whatnot.

E May 22, 2010, 5:55 PM

And no, I’ll readily admit my kid is far from being “gifted”.

SS May 22, 2010, 7:03 PM

To Anonymous, this author isn’t making fun of the child. She’s poking fun at a certain type of parent we’ve all come across. The type of parent who tries to show off how great her child is by pushing her child to rattle off impressive sounding facts. It just winds up making the parent look pretentious. It has nothing to do with the child.

I’m sure there are gifted kids who get picked on by their peers for being smart. That’s terrible and it shouldn’t happen but that’s not what was going in in this scenario.

I thought this article was hilarious. I’d have been tempted to reply with something like, “My child can pick his nose and fart at the same time.”

Anonymous May 23, 2010, 2:42 PM

@SS - I didn’t think the author was making fun of the kid. I don’t want people rolling their eyes and thinking nasty thoughts about ME because my kids are smart. When my kids were small, I picked my friends by whether or not they acted weird when my kids said something unusual. I remember people disliking me, assuming I was teaching my child, or just getting competitive and pushing their own kid to perform. I absolutely didn’t ask me kids to show the nice mommy what they knew (I’m not stupid), but if people spent any time around my kids, they would figure it out. I don’t know what was going on with the mom here, but I think the best response would just be something about how great it is her son loves dinosaurs. If you think she’s pushing him, admire him so she’ll leave him alone. Other responses seem to me to come more from insecurity about your own kid.

Anonymous May 23, 2010, 9:56 PM

If your child is in pre-k, Spongebob and iCarly is not appropriate. I wouldn’t even suggest it for a 9 yr old. How about you turn off the crap on Nick and talk and play with your child, then he might be able to learn about pollen.

totameafox May 23, 2010, 10:53 PM

It sounds like you are a typical American mother. You obviously love your children and have the right idea about raising them. However (and I’m going to try to write this in the least scathing way possible so bear with me here); what your last two paragraphs say to me are: “I fear that I’m under-educating my children and exposing them to mind-numbing popular media BUT! it’s okay because they’re happy.”

I will willingly admit that I know nothing of your parenting skills, nor am I suggesting that you’re a horrible parent, because I find that extremely offensive and rude, and also completely unnecessary. HOWEVER!

Please, for the love of Cod and all that is fishy, DO NOT take pride in being a typical ignorant American, much less a typical ignorant American mother.

Not only do I find your lack of real concern disturbing, I also find your ostentatious display of apathy appalling.

I can’t believe you WROTE AN ENTIRE DITTY that translates to: “Parents who educate their children (albeit enthusiastically/publicly) are pretentious and annoying. I’d rather not have to hear someone who is doing MORE than me as a parent (even if it seems excessive). Parents that go above and beyond need to ‘SHUT UP!’ I am completely content with having low expectations for my kids because as long as they’re happy and have good rhythm, I’m happy, too.”

I also am pained to see that for all the times you voiced concern about your shortcomings, you RATIONALIZED them.

I understand that your piece was written for its entertainment value and not necessarily for accuracy, but if you truly see no wrong in everything you’ve written, I suggest you take a long hard look at yourself.

The problem today with parents is that they are becoming less and less educated on how their lack of attention to detail affects their children. Just because it’s easier to let your your child “veg out” to Yo Gabba Gabba than reading them a book or having them participate in a stimulating conversation at the dinner table does not mean it’s right. It makes you a lazy and neglectful parent.

So! Now that I’m done being harsh, let me say this: balance is key. knowledge is power.

Do your research about the shows your children watch. You might be surprised on what you find.

Otherwise, have fun participating in the MK Culture and the vast world of apathy and ignorance. I wish you and your kids the best of luck.

SS May 24, 2010, 10:48 AM

This article isn’t about how parents who educate their children are bad or how very smart children are awkward. It’s about how pretentious parents who use their children to show off are annoying. Plain and simple.

J June 21, 2010, 6:23 PM

Teaching kids to match images with names does not make them gifted. All kids excel at that task. It’s how they learn to recognize people. And just as knowing somebody’s name doesn’t mean you understand them, knowing a dinosaurs name doesn’t mean your kid is a budding paleontologist.

If you want your kid to excel intellectually, all you have to do is prevent their innate desire to learn from being crushed by your own impatience or their jaded school teachers. Never ever ever say to your child “stop asking so many questions.” Always encourage them to ask questions and teach them how to find answers. That’s all you have to do.

Raising a smart child is like lighting a fire. All you have to do is give it a spark, and it will grow all on its own.

Anonymous August 26, 2010, 1:06 PM

Seems odd to me that this child is ‘gifted’ because he watches a show on PBS kids. It is funny to me how offended people get over their kids. So the mom was trying to show off her kid, so what. I don’t think you are in every household so how could you possibly know if parents are drilling their kids or if their kids do simply know stuff. There are both out there. Believe it or not there are kids that just get it. In my opinion kids are gifted in all sorts of ways. They don’t have to only be gifted in academics. Some are gifted in music, sports, etc. Why do so many parents get offended if there is a gifted child out there. It doesn’t mean that parent is better than you or that the child is better than yours. Wouldn’t this world be a better place if everyone would just chill out. Have confidence in the parent you are and if you can’t then change your parenting.

VAmom September 18, 2010, 11:16 AM

I think his mother’s insecurity is the problem in this article. It’s ok to be proud of your children and their talents, but incessantly telling everyone everything your kid does is irritating and unrealistic. I don’t mind people sharing stories about their kids, but I have a neighbor who seems to obsess about her son. All she talks about is how her son is doing and how wonderful he is. She barely says anything about her daughter, who in my opinion is more talented, less spoiled, and a better behaved child. I predict her son is going to get a rude awakening one day, when he realizes the world does not revolve around him 24/7 like his mother does.

Anonymous  September 27, 2010, 9:26 PM

This is just mean spirited!! It really sounds like the author is incredibly insecure about her own parenting skills. Don’t bash a parent because he or she is interested in their child’s development and, yes (shutter), proud of their child. And I really hope the author isn’t singling out gifted kids to bash…As a parent of a gifted child (yes, really!) it’s really tough talking to other parents and I spend a lot of time being embarrassed about my child’s skills/knowledge because of parents like you. Please stop perpetuating this negativity!

KeepITreal January 17, 2011, 5:02 PM

My kid farts on queue and eats his boogers, but he’s happy and thrives both academically and in sports, despite his Mom’s inability to be sure that she is spelling booger coorectly i an internet post. I know this success is because I just let him be a kid. Great article - I’m inspired.

gifted mom of gifted child January 26, 2011, 5:04 PM

Hi! Thank you for the reminder to keep our giftedness to ourselves. I get it. I appreciate your point. Also, next time you see her again (and I hope you get the chance to, because I have the feeling you will flabbergast her), just ask her if she had her son tested. Believe me, everyone knows who the gifted kids are. It is so obvious, you couldn’t hide it, if you tried. As far as I know all of the children in the U.S.A. have the right to be tested if their parents or teachers suspect giftedness. Then, they are eligible for gifted supports, schools, programs, etc. You can’t fake it. So, if someone is being false, call them on it by all means. She sounds like she is giving gifted persons a bad name.

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