What Do You Do When Your Child is Smarter than You?


We adopted our first child when he was three months old. When we went to the agency to get him, he promptly stood up on my wife's lap and looked out the window. He was robust and happy, sleeping through the night from the beginning. In fact he was such an easy baby that we really wondered why parenting was considered to be such an ordeal. We found out later. In fact he was such an ideal baby that we assumed all were the same. Not so. Our second had colic and didn't sleep through the night for nearly two years.

As Clint got older we saw that he was extremely bright. At nine months he spoke his first sentence. Our cat crawled past him on a sofa, then jumped off and disappeared. Clint said, "Where did it go, the Wow?" A Germanic construction, for sure, but easily understandable. His verbal precocity stayed with him throughout his childhood. At age eight he called the local pizzeria to order a pizza (without our knowledge of course. When he finished, the clerk said, "Thanks for your order, Ma'am." We had to talk to the pizxeria to make sure he didn't make any more such orders. He was very gregarious and adults loved being able to carry on intelligent conversations with him.

He never was at a loss for words. When he was about three the mother of a friend of his had another baby. He came home excitedly to tell the news. When we asked whether it was a boy or a girl, he frowned, obviously not sure. Then he brightened and said, "It came out of Linda's 'gina, but it had Mark's penis." OK, enough information; it's a boy.

When he was five, a neighborhood grandpa-type died. He had been a heavy smoker and had told the neighbor kids that he was sick because of smoking and didn't want them ever to do it. (It was a great gift, as none of the kids, now in their thirties, ever smoked). Emmett died of lung cancer and my wife took Clint to the reviewal before the funeral. It was his first such experience. They were alone for a while, so she lifted Clint so he could see Emmett in the open casket. The questions were non-stop. "Why does he have a flag?" She explained that he was a veteran. "Why does he have a bracelet on?" She explained it was a rosary, or prayer beads. "Why does he have his glasses on. He can't see, can he?" My wife kept a straight face and explained that Emmett's family wanted him to look the way they remembered him. Clint asked, "Why didn't they put a cigarette in his mouth, then?"

He also showed great mechanical and problem-solving ability. Once he was with me when I tried to open the shed to get out the lawn mower. The lock was rusty and wouldn't open. "Why don't you use a rusty key?" Clint asked helpfully.

As he approached adolescence, the phrase "too smart for his own good" fit him to a tee. Bored in school. Clint began finding friends who shared his strong interest in cars. Some of them were into stealing car parts or "borrowing" cars for joy rides. He was usually the planner and the lookout rather than the perpetrator, but that didn't keep him from troubles with the law that he couldn't talk his way out of. We had several dismal years of bailing him out of jail, court appearances and stays in correction facilities.

We all survived through some very trying times. If there's a solution in dealing with a too-bright kid, it's listening. Try to figure out what he's thinking so you have a chance to avert plans that you know will end in trouble. Let him know you're proud of him but will keep a watchful eye. Remind him that you sometimes need him to slow down and explain things, and think them through.

Most of all, do the toughest thing of all and set limits. They'll hate you for it at the time, but in the end they'll thank you.


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