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August 23, 2010

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Your boy handled that with such aplomb! Loved this post.

I'm not sure if I have any advice. If it were my son, I might tell him to 'know his audience'. If you're talking over the heads of your listeners, then your knowledge is not helping you communicate. And in the case of Dustin, it may only serve to embarrass others who haven't yet learned what you know.

In your case growing up, there was a lot of cultural context that was missing so you simply didn't know what your peer group knew or didn't know. Some kids roll better with it than others. Some kids fill the uncomfortable silence with a joke, some kids deflate with embarrassment. I had (have)a very off-beat sense of humor. My dad had a mad passion for British comedy and I picked up a dry sense of humor growing up. You can imagine how well being a 'funny' girl went over in a small, rural Minnesota school. I'm still sensitive about being called 'weird'.

My son is very, very smart. Sometimes he is a little boasty about it and I tell him that, yeah, you're smart. Being smart is a gift, like being tall. You didn't do anything to earn it. But as with any gift God's given you, you have to work hard to make sure you're using it to it's full potential. Also, being smart's no good at all if you're not kind. You still need to put others before yourself and love God with your whole heart, the same as everyone else. No matter how smart you are, no one will want to be around you if you're not a nice person.

Hope that's some help.

oh, man, I wish I knew the answer here - I worry about this so much. I'm afraid so far my tendency (and that of my husband) is to over-correct for our own childhood and encourage the older kid to fit in, to hide some things about himself.

The "knowing your audience" bit is a useful one - I am already teaching my 4.5 that one in terms of humor (you can make poo jokes at home with your sister, but not at school) and talking smack when we play Mario Brothers (i.e. we can talk smack to each other, but he can't do that at school because he will hurt feelings.)

I alienated a lot of kids growing up because I did not hone this skill until college. I tended to use words that other kids didn't know and they would make fun of me. Of course, now I realize what a little snot I must have appeared to have been.

Ultimately, the decision is your son's. Does he want to be on his own and linger on the edges? Some kids do - and that is okay. But if he does want to belong and be part of the crowd, he will need to learn to communicate that. And that is okay, too. :-)

Great post!

I too was a "smart kid" growing up and had some trouble fitting in (and incidentally, also had fuzzy red hair and glasses). I developed a tendency to reject others before they could reject me, which of course led to me not having many friends. I learned a few lessons over the years that have really helped me.

1) There are many people who are smart but don't know as many facts. That doesn't mean they are any less intelligent than me, it just means they haven't been exposed to as many things yet.

2) Everyone is good at something. Even though I may be the "smart" one, someone else may be much better than me at many different things: art, music, etc. The sooner he can learn to evaluate people for their strengths as well as their weaknesses, the easier it will be for him to relate to people.

3) In the workplace, even if you are the smartest and most knowledgeable, no one is going to come to you for help if you look down your nose at them while giving them an explanation. It helps if you don't act like they should already know the answer.

4) Most people have certain things they are really good at and others they are not so good at. For instance, I'm really terrible at doing math in my head. I used to have a really hard time admitting that I was bad at anything because I felt that I had to live up to this image of being "smart". Now I make fun of myself -- and it can really help break the ice.

5) It might be hard to find a spouse later on in life if you are unable to see other people's strengths (smart people sometimes have trouble only looking at weaknesses). No one will ever live up to your expectations if you are using yourself as a standard. Also, it could cause stress in a marriage if one partner always feels the other is smarter/better. Thankfully, my husband is very, very good at math; so, even though I tend to have more experience with most things, he will ALWAYS be better than me at at least one thing. :)

Probably these are things he'll just have to learn with age. It took me a while to figure this stuff out, but I'm a much happier and well-adjusted person now that I have!

I like the "know your audience" advice, but I also suggest seeking out peers -- in school if possible and out of school. I don't know how big of a school your son goes to, but if it's large-ish, chances are there are some other smart kids who will get it.

As a teacher and parent I have mixed feelings about gifted and talented classes and such, but one plus side of them is that the students get to have a peer group that they will hopefully fit in with a bit more easily. Are there any options like that at your school? It sounds like your son could definitely benefit from more challenging math and science classes.

You are a treasure! I so enjoy your blog.

I ponder your points a great deal now that I am a dad, and I am curious as to what strengths and weaknesses my son will have.

My wish for him is that he will have an better time in school than I had, but I also think that these experiences significantly shaped me, and hopefully made me more sensitive.

We had pretty much the same trouble with Nikki last year. I didn't want her to change who she is just to suit the other kids (she has an amazing personality. Teacher's who have been teaching for 30+ years have told me they've never met anyone like her), but as the year wore on she became lonely. I like the 'know your audience' approach. I think we were doing that in the end but the phrase will be helpful for this year.

Oh, goodness. I had those kinds of problems in school, too. My second school was better than the first, because there was a higher proportion of "smart kids" at the second school and the teachers were generally more encouraging, but I still managed to stand out in other ways that didn't win me friends. My husband was much the same.

We don't have any children yet, but I sometimes worry about what our kids will be like and how they'll deal with school. Fortunately, neither of us has a 9-5 sort of job, so homeschooling, even with both parents working, will be a possibility.

When I went to public school (K-3, in the mid 90s) I did tone it down a lot, not because of the kids but because I was embarrassed by the teachers making much of me all the time. I'm a shy person; to this day I hate getting awards. (I just got one, and have been congratulated by random strangers in the hall for a week. If I wasn't a senior I'd say, "Next year can you honor me by NOT giving me an award?")

Anyway, I'm not too socially stunted now, or so I like to think. And I can have fun with the idea of being smart. Once I was having a Christmas party with some friends and while trying to open my present burst out with "This ribbon is foiling my genius!" Everyone laughed, and somebody helped me with the ribbon.

My boyfriend (<--evidence of non-social-stunting) is even more brilliant than I am. (I get better grades, though, mainly because I'm more organized.) He and his 4 younger siblings were homeschooled from the get-go and they all have gobs of self-esteem. I don't think any of them are conceited or obnoxious about it, they just have no qualms about imparting facts about the Napoleonic Wars for hours at a time. (That's the 13-year-old; I fear for him when he goes to college.) But so far none of them are in the workforce; Boyfriend tried 3 colleges before he found one that actually engaged his prodigious brain in the way it needed to be engaged. Maybe he would have had the same problem if he had self-esteem issues, though, rather than being the kid who argues with the professor.

To answer your basic question: I tried to fit in and gave up, he never tried, we're both doing okay so far and have a circle of genuine friends. You might want to ask again in 5 years, though.

P. S. I love your posts with your kids' physics quotes. Please don't stop.

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