Do Your Children Feel Smart?

Do Your Children Feel Smart?

There are several definitions for the word smart. When used as a noun it means clever, bright, intelligent, or sharp. When used as a verb it means 'stinging pain.’

To some children, because of the way they see themselves in their surroundings, this word can create stinging pain of insecurity. Many hide the pain for years. Until we ask them how they perceive themselves, we may never know, and they will carry this stinging pain for years. 

Over the years, I have come across students who formed inaccurate opinions about whether they are smart or not. Some brilliant children have formed negative opinions at very young ages. Children who are good observers will often form a judgment about themselves as not being smart. Of the hundreds of children who have formed negative self-images around this word, a significantly large number of them made this determination at the early age of four and five. I have found the brighter the children, the earlier they come to the conclusion they are not smart. 

Ironically, the fact that they formed an opinion of whether they were smart or not is an indicator of higher intelligence.

The following are just a few accountings of children who verbalized what other children might be feeling. Children like them are in classrooms everywhere, and until we ask them, "When did you decide you weren't smart?" we will never know how they feel. 

An eight year old boy, who did not start school until kindergarten, stated, "I can remember the exact moment when I knew I wasn't smart. It was my first day of kindergarten. I thought to myself, ‘My parents have been telling me a lie about being so smart. They don't know what they are talking about. These kids are way smarter than me. They know how to write their names." Of course, he wasn't exposed to how to write his name, so he formed this inaccurate opinion based on false information. 

Another one of my former students, who currently runs a successful advertising agency, shared he knew he wasn't smart in kindergarten, as well. When asked how he knew this, he said, "I couldn't write like the Alyson. Her work was always perfect and mine looked messy. In third grade, my work was put up on the wall next to hers, and hers was always perfect and mine looked like a kindergartners." He was a tall boy in third grade and ended up topping out at 6'7." He based his opinion of his intelligence on his ability to manipulate a pencil or crayon. He, in a sense, was working with puppy dog paws. Once he grew into his hands, he discovered how brilliant he was. Because he had a hard time expressing himself in written form, he mastered his verbal skills. The social skills he developed still serve him well in his current career. 

An adorable little girl in my class revealed she decided she wasn’t smart at four years old. She formed this opinion because her classmates were faster finishers. The work was coloring. I asked her, "So, am I correct that you decided you weren't smart, because you took pride in how you colored?" When framed in this way, she saw how silly it sounded. This student analyzed things in ways differently than her classmates. She was a deep thinker. Consequently, she didn't come up with quick answers. As she matriculated, the shout outs of her classmates to discussion questions shut down her thinking and resulted in validating her inaccurate opinion of her capabilities. Quick answers are not a sign of 'smart.' Deep thinking is. Giving the class think time to process questions, showed her that she was in fact very bright. She may have taken a little longer to finish a test, assignment, or come up with a clever answer. She did, however, she out performed her classmates. Every time she began to doubt herself, she was reminded that she was hearing the voice of that four year old who was wrong.

To ease the minds of these children, it helped to point out that dumb people don't know they are dumb. It takes intellect to compare two things and form a judgment from observations. One has to be smart to do that. 

Educators and parents can have meaningful dialogues about what smart means and have them analyze if they have been judging themselves unfairly. 

I would like to redefine smart as the ability to face obstacles and find solutions without judging oneself or others. It manifests in many ways in different people. It is not how quickly one comes up with an answer to a question. It isn't how well one speaks at 2 years old. It is how well one deals with challenges. A smart person, in my opinion, isn’t one who blames others or gives up, but one who keeps looking for resolutions to challenges. They would rather spend more time figuring out solutions, rather than being quick in judgment. They compare and contrast situations to come up with the most effective answers. 

We can help children see how their thoughts impact their reality. An opinion is just a view or judgment formed about something, that is not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. Showing students where their opinions come from and offering new facts can dramatically impact how they view their smartness and their performance in class, 

Please ask your students or children and share your experiences on my Facebook page. 


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