Think your child might be at the top of their class? Has it always seemed that way? Many parents can identify the signs of “extra smarts” from an early age. Whether it’s increased vocabulary or a propensity for math facts, being smarter than average can map an interesting road for both parents and their children. Lorraine Allen, a mom who knew her daughter was a whiz kid early on, says she “memorized and began repeating things she overheard, like my cell number, my husband’s number, her grandparents addresses and other long things—even my social security number, which I said out loud once, when I was on the phone—before age 2.” Talk about a picture-perfect memory! An Ohio mom shares that she knew her son was exceptionally smart when she and his preschool teacher sat down to introduce the basic concept of addition. She recalls that he “looked at the cushion he was sitting on (which had three rows of three buttons each) and said ‘three and three make nine,’ bypassing our agenda entirely.” Who needs addition when you can skip straight to your times tables? When it comes to intellectually gifted children, it’s common that they begin showing signs very early on. But that isn’t the only factor. Erika Trautman, a mom who senses her son falls into the gifted category and who also holds an MS in psychology, says, “I’m skeptical about trying to target smart-kid traits since no two kid[s act] the same.” She goes to say, “In my opinion, much of how they act is tied into birth order or [is] family dynamic related too.” No doubt children are complex. So much factors in to their development and their ability to achieve beyond what is considered “normal.” For example, one child might be a little genius when it comes to spatial awareness (a future engineer perhaps?) but struggle with decisions in social settings—consistently making unwise choices when outside the scope of a parent’s watchful eye. Another might have a huge vocabulary (a budding academic maybe?) but will fall behind their peers in fine motor skills and struggle to tie their shoes. A teacher from Washington state shared that she once had a student who memorized country flags with such intensity and speed that he garnered a clip on primetime television! He was undeniably a genius: a child who from a very early age had grasped concepts far beyond his peers’ comprehension, and it took all his teachers’ and parents’ energy to keep up with him. But does memorizing facts and achieving near-perfect scores in the academic world add up to real evidence of “extra smarts”? Smart doesn’t necessarily mean successful, and science tells us that parental influence is much more of a determining factor than anything else. Trautman referenced three decades worth of study recapped in Scientific American that found focusing on kids’ processes rather than their intelligence or even ability is the key to encouraging their success in school and beyond. Still, there are some children who really stand out. To embrace that natural skill and encourage their learning processes, it’s important to catch the signs early to help them hone and develop who they will become in the most supportive environment possible. Science tells us that your child might be smarter than average if…
1. Books are more than their best friends.
Children who are smarter than average not only learn to read early. Once they learn to read, they turn reading into learning, which can create a cycle of never-ending knowledge acquisition. The Parenting article “How to Raise Gifted Children” emphasizes the importance of access to books in fostering early intellectual engagement. Books increase vocabulary and comprehension and having them around encourages children to realize that ideas are something worth talking about!
2. They thrive during free play opportunities.
Alone time doesn’t bother smart kids. Their mind keeps them busy enough! Trautman has seen this firsthand with her son, especially when it comes to Legos. She says other gifted children may engage in different types of imaginative pursuits like “playing store and creating menus.” Free play is an opportunity for exploring, taking things apart, and being creative. Her takeaway: A bright mind will always fill an empty space with something new and exciting.
3. The magic may be in the mess.
What do Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, and Mark Zuckerberg all have in common? Messy desks. And for children, that equates to a disorganized play area or bedroom. Einstein said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?” Courage Mudzongo, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Warner Pacific College, highlighted a dissertation by Marge Hoctor titled Identifying Young Gifted Children, calling it a “treasure trove” for parents embarking on the smarts journey with their child. In her work, Hoctor cites creativity as a key component of giftedness. We adults know that creativity is often born in the mess, so allowing it invites children to problem solve, invent, and produce original ideas. Although it’s a great skill to be able to organize a space, for smart kids, being too rigid about keeping tidy might also be a hindrance to their advancement.
4. Their mind is like a camera.
Take Allen’s daughter, for example. Hearing something once or twice then realizing it’s logged away for recall at a moment’s notice definitely means her memorization skills are above and beyond “normal.” Her mother believes she has what some would call a photographic memory, which is often touted as a sign of a child with above average intelligence.
5. They might be wallflowers.
Smart kids aren’t always the social ones. Kathleen K., a teacher with 25 years of experience, tells HealthyWay, “Many gifted children I have had the blessing of teaching are quiet, observant little ones. They watch, assess, and almost map the future to determine if a particular task or activity is worth their investment.” Often the extra smart kids stand back, watch, and observe before choosing how they want to interact. It’s their way of identifying if they can be a true player in whatever is going on. For many driven children, failure isn’t an option, so if the particular task at hand seems too daunting, they’ll opt out. Granted, Trautman believes that this all-in or all-out mentality is much more tied to birth order than smarts. “A firstborn,” she says, “is usually the social one and first one to jump in to any project.”
6. Bedtime is a battle.
When you’re bright, it’s hard to quiet your mind. So smarter-than-average individuals often struggle with sleep. Well, traditional sleep at least. They’re frequently night owls and prefer keep their own hours in regard to when they wake and sleep. A study done by Satoshi Kanazawa at the London School of Economics and Political Science concluded that “more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to be nocturnal adults who go to bed late and wake up late on both weekdays and weekends.”
7. They aren’t good at everything.
Smart kids know their strengths and stick with them. They pinpoint a hobby (like the child who fell in love with country flags) and may go deep into their learning instead of wide. This also means that children who are smarter than average won’t necessarily excel at school. That might not be what they’re focusing on. It sounds contradictory, but if you delve into their minds, there will be a lot more going on than turning in assignments on time, practicing neat handwriting, and interacting with peers.
8. Their parents are well educated.
It’s the age-old tale of leading by example. A parent who pursued higher education is more likely to have a child who does the same. And a well-educated parent is more likely to see and understand the importance of introducing their child to various learning opportunities at a young age when retention is strong. A parent who creates a home focused on learning is more likely to nurture a child who has vast interests—and thus smarts. A 2015 Business Insider article cites a “2009 longitudinal study of 856 people in semirural New York” that concluded that the “parents’ educational level when the child was 8 years old significantly predicted educational and occupational success for the child 40 years later.” If most or maybe even all of these telltale signs of super smarts are reminiscent of everyday life with your kiddo, science says you just might have a little genius on your hands! But these days, priority is being placed on more than just students’ and individuals’ IQs alone. We know now more than ever that academic smarts aren’t everything. Today, emotional intelligence ranks just as important if not more so than IQ, and that’s something parents have much more control over. A 2012 study titled “EQ vs. IQ Which Is Most Important in the Success or Failure of a Student?” states, “Unlike logical-mathematical intelligence, which suffers insignificant modifications once the end of adolescence, emotional intelligence can be developed over time, free of age limit, with the condition that it is provided the necessary attention and effort to it.” Hence, it winds up being a blend of intellectual intelligence and emotional intelligence that will lead a child to true success throughout life. If you believe your child is smarter than average, Mudzongo suggests you explore more detailed steps in guiding their success by reading David Palmer’s Parents’ Guide to IQ Testing and Gifted Education: All You Need to Know to Make the Right Decisions for Your Child. He also wants you to “feel empowered” as a parent as you prepare “to support your child to ‘be smarter’” in all aspects of life.