Marguerite Kelly
Family Almanac

Family Almanac: A too-smart-by-half 8-year-old

Hadley Hooper for The Washington Post

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QIs there a malaise that overtakes kids in the third grade? Our 8-year-old daughter masters school material easily, but she would rather read than do anything else, which makes her work look like it was done by a first-grader.

And yet she is delightful and she charms all the adults with her conversational skills, her kindness and her joy of life. This, combined with her remarkable intelligence, has let her coast through school, but she can’t fake or charm her way through cursive writing, multiplication tables and journal writing.

I just don’t know why she acts this way. We don’t rant or rave in our family; we have a stable home environment, a predictable schedule and rights and responsibilities for each family member. She also sits in a dedicated place near me to do her homework while I do my crossword, but I refuse to engage in a nightly argument. The homework either gets done or it doesn’t.

She knows that the teacher is as disappointed in her schoolwork as we are, but I don’t know what to do about it. She no longer cares about getting free time when she finishes her work or getting a reward for bringing home a signed homework sheet.

Unless she improves, she won’t be included in a program for the gifted next year, which would be a huge blow to her. She is very proud of her intelligence, although we usually don’t discuss it because intelligence is a gift, not an accomplishment. However, I don’t especially care if she’s in this gifted program or not. She still has her weekly trip to the library, her favorite activity, as well as her church activities and her dance class.

My daughter struggles with friendships, although one teacher told me that gifted children often have this problem because their interests and ideas are more advanced.

A The teacher is right. Some children don’t like to play with a child whose IQ is much higher than theirs any more than they like to play with a child whose IQ is much lower, because children usually like to be friends with people who think and act like they do.

Even if your daughter does get into her school’s gifted program, she should take an after-school class that appeals to her strengths and her curiosity and that is fairly hard. Other gifted children are more likely to attend this kind of class and to become friends with your daughter because they also like to be friends with people who think and act like they do.

But that’s not all your daughter should do. According to Erik Erikson, the psychoanalyst who split life into eight separate developmental stages, a child should learn to be industrious when she’s between 6 and 12. This allows her to grow psychologically, he said, since each stage is built on all the ones that have gone before.

Educators teach cursive writing, multiplication tables and journal writing in grade school because children usually like to do the same things over and over again at this age. Gifted children, however, are tempted to skip this step because they’re so far ahead of themselves and because no one has told them that repetition helps children remember what they’ve learned and gives them the shortcuts they need to do boring jobs automatically.

Your young reader will see the value of repetition if you have her memorize “The Tyger” by William Blake or “O Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman and then let her recite them, since these dramatic poems will invite applause and make her want to learn more. You also might teach her to hop when she does multiplication, because movement can spur the memory, and to play classical music while she writes in cursive, because music is the first intelligence and it strengthens what we learn.

Most of all, you need to look at your daughter’s homework every night because that’s your job, just as it is her job to redo any work that is sloppy or wrong. Don’t have a big scene, even if she cries or tries to charm you, and don’t negotiate or remind her of the free time and the rewards she will get if she does a good job. Instead smile nicely and say, “I’m sorry, honey. This doesn’t pass muster,” each time she brings you a badly done page.

Once your daughter realizes that she has no options, she will start doing neater, cleaner homework, but it may take a week or so for that to happen. If you demand good work, your daughter will work hard in life rather than trying to get by on charm — and you are the one who should make this critical decision.

8 Send questions about parenting
to advice@margueritekelly.com.

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