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He’s not as smart as his brother… March 4, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, older son, younger son.
Tags: , , ,

I’ve been living with an illusion for the past six years that was pretty much shattered recently.  Having an illusion or misconception shatter is both good and terrifying.

Older boy and younger boy are, in terms of personality, like night and day.  The older boy likes to say he broke the mold.  The younger boy once was very puzzled by this, responding, “There’s no mold inside MY body!”

The older boy is the quiet, isolated, brilliant, and frustrated type.  I think he’s an artist at heart, and though we try, there’s so much depth, I doubt I’ll ever understand entirely how he’s feeling or what he’s thinking.  The younger boy is the social, loving, empathetic, athletic type.  He wears his heart on his sleeve, and usually that heart is joyful.

Both were IQ tested.  The older boy showed up at a level I call “scary smart”, but at least he wasn’t “terrifyingly smart”.  These terms are not supposed to mean the kids are scary, but that parenting a kid like this can be scary.  And it’s worse when you throw learning disabilities into the mix.

Given the huge number of difficulties we had with the older boy even before school, I was so relieved to get the younger boy’s IQ test back.  One of my first thoughts was, “Thank goodness he’s not as smart as his brother.”

It was pretty naive of me to think this.  But there were other differences.  He had never really had serious problems getting along with other kids.  His daycare and preschool providers always talked about him as a sweet, sensitive boy.  This was a huge contrast to what his brother went through, so I kept thinking that he was going to be my “easy kid”.

Maybe even normal.

And he is my easy kid, but even easy kids have problems.  I shouldn’t have been so complacent: starting elementary school caused all of the difficulties to start coming to the surface.  How many stories have I read about gifted children starting school, and *BAM!*  the formerly pleasant, bright child turns into a puddle of tears?

To be fair, I was aware it was happening.  When you wake up a child in the morning, and the first thing he does is cry because he has to go to school, you know there’s a problem.  Or when he says his teachers don’t like him.  Or that school is too hard.

I kept trying to discuss the issue with the school principal and the oft unavailable teacher.  When my husband hit his breaking point, she finally told us that he had shut down and was pretty much refusing to talk with her.

I’m sitting here, puzzled why she didn’t tell us this when it first started.  I got comments like, “He’s wandering around the room, not working.”  I was never told that he was flat out refusing.  And I can’t figure out why she would wait weeks or months until teacher conferences to tell us that.

The breaking point was the comment: “Your son probably needs special ed or to be diagnosed with something.”  There is nothing that will make a parent see red faster than that statement, especially when they know their kid inside and out, when one of them is an educator, when they’ve dealt with a whole slew of doctors and diagnoses because of a previous child.  And when they are absolutely certain that the one and only thing that is wrong is the child’s very low self-concept.

It has been obvious that the younger child was a perfectionist from day one.  We have tried very hard to reassure him that we really just want him to try.  At four years old, he would fly into howling fits because he couldn’t manipulate Legos the same way his significantly older brother could.  He sometimes dreads going to his favorite athletic activity because there is one single exercise he couldn’t do well.  He refused to read books to anyone but me because, in his words, “I can’t read.”

It’s typical for a kid who suffers from asynchronous development.  A kid whose mind is, even at this young age, a few years ahead of his body is going to be easily frustrated because of his awareness of what he can’t do.  The fact that he is very capable for his age isn’t even on his radar.  It’s even worse that he idolizes his brother, who is nearly a decade older than him.  He thinks he should be able to do everything as well as his brother, which is completely unrealistic but which he’s too young to really understand.

A child like this needs encouragement to just try, to be recognized for effort, not for achievement.  Unfortunately, his teacher apparently didn’t understand that.  She would complain about half-finished work, wouldn’t accept anything unless it was done, would seldom give him positive comments unless it was…you guessed it…perfect.

Putting him with that teacher was like water on an electrical fire.

So I’m facing that fact that my “easy kid” may still be easy relative to his brother at this age, but that he’s still different enough to have problems that the average or even average gifted kid will not.  He’s going to be a handful for a teacher who is not used to dealing with his issues.  I think that he will still be easier than his brother because the biggest issue will be finding a teacher who has the right kind of nurturing personality.  But, like his brother, he broke the mold.


1. Jilly - March 4, 2011

Wow. That teacher obviously needs to take a refresher on tact at the very least. As a teacher, I have had students from all paths and levels. Yes, I can be very tough on them, but I also know when to let up, or more, know that one teaching tactic is NOT the answer for all students. Plus, he’s 4, right? Four year old students are going to work much differently than six year old students, or even five year old students. Yet, it seems like this teacher has done much to already make your son hate the idea of learning in a conventional environment. I don’t blame you for seeing red at all. Shame on this teacher.

Something to look at and consider: first, what’s the student load in his class? Are the classes overflowing? Is the teacher to student ratio really low? Can you take a day to observe the class? I think it’s really important that parents come and watch how things are done, if at all possible. My guess is that it’s quite possibly a problem with the system, particularly if like in other states, there have been budget cuts.

mareserinitatis - March 5, 2011

He’s six, and this is first grade. I think the problem is the teacher has high expectations, and she doesn’t realize how sensitive he is to even a little criticism. And he’s flat-out told us that he wants to get 100%. I know she wants him to get the work done, but if he’s anxious about his performance, at least she needs to provide a little reassurance that what she’s really worried about is him trying and that she’s not so worried about the outcome.

This was a small private school, so a lot of the issues I would normally be concerned about were not present here. I think it really was a huge mismatch between the way she presented her expectations and his internal dialogue as to what those expectations were from his perspective.

My biggest frustration was that we made several attempts to find out what was going on at school that was leading to his stressed out behavior at home. She didn’t tell us much at all until we had already decided to take him out. If she had talked with us earlier, we could have gotten some other people involved to help before it got so bad.

Jilly - March 6, 2011

Sorry I mixed up his age. Regardless, the teacher needs to be reprimanded for her actions/lack of actions. Also, he’s been in school for what, six months? That’s just enough time for habits to set in. I only hope that the this teacher’s damaging effects can be reversed quickly in a new environment.

It probably wouldn’t hurt to lodge a complaint with the school’s administration about this teacher. Especially in light of your comment below regarding conferences in the fall.

2. Not What I Wanted To Be - March 5, 2011

IMO, schools are a fundamentally toxic and broken system, especially for smart kids. That’s why my husband and I will homeschool if/when we have children. We *expect* our kids to be “scary smart” as a *minimum* standard — any child of mine who isn’t reading by 4 years old will be exposed on a mountaintop so that I may concentrate my efforts on their worthier siblings. :D

mareserinitatis - March 6, 2011


My parents were SO hyper because neither of my kids read by 4 (which is when I learned to read). I guess I was into the ‘not pushing’ things. I’ve learned since then that both of them probably could have read, but both of them are so unable to handle frustration that it would’ve been too much for them. In fact, the younger one has been reading for well over a year, and still insists he can’t read because he still struggles with some of the bigger words. o_0 I have learned to sit down, read one page, and then refuse to say anything until he reads the second page. At that point, I tell him how much I enjoy reading with him. Otherwise, I just keep buying him books and leaving them out, and he just takes them into his room and reads them when no one is looking. :)

Back to your original point, the schools (at least the ones I’ve dealt with) really don’t know how to handle anything above your ‘average’ gifted kid. And if you do end up homeschooling, I have a ton of advice for you. :-D

FrauTech - March 7, 2011

I think expecting intelligence from your kids is healthy but expecting them to read by x age may not be. Intelligence comes in many different forms and you mention the “broken system” of school which expects kids to be at any average level with a large number of topics from an early age. It might be your kids are good with music or mathematics or language and reading young does not always define intelligence or progress.

3. Kari - March 6, 2011

We had a similar kind of problem with our son’s 1st grade teacher. He is a very creative problem-solver but tends to fixate on his favorite solution & will dig in like nobody’s business if he can’t do things the way he thinks is right. His teacher was pretty traditional, and even worse, set in the “I can’t let him have his way now b/c I already said no & I don’t want to encourage the behavior” mindset. But the first time there was an issue in class, she called me to discuss it. I can’t believe this teacher didn’t try to communicate with you, especially since you were trying to contact her already. Imagine if you brought your car to the mechanic, and they didn’t return your calls or contact you to let you know what was going on, and then weeks later when you finally went in to get the car, they said “oh, we haven’t been able to work on it because we can’t get the hood open.” Teachers MUST communicate with parents, or they can’t really help the kids reach their potential.

mareserinitatis - March 6, 2011

Your car analogy is spot-on.

Re: the first grade teacher: that’s the absolute worst. I think a better way of handling it would be to let them try and then have a discussion about what worked and what didn’t. Turn it into a learning process.

Grade school teachers are notoriously rigid in their thinking. I really don’t understand it, but it seems like there are a lot of them. I’ve also noticed the tendency is stronger with female teachers. The male teachers we’ve worked with don’t seem to be so uptight about the kids being different, and the kids seem to bond with them a bit better. I can only guess that it’s because they’ve gone through what it’s like to be a boy and can see it from that perspective. I think the female teachers get an ego beating when they find a kid that they have difficulty working with, and since they can’t see it from the kid’s perspective, they get frustrated and ramp up pretty quick.

I’m still very confused about why she wouldn’t talk to us. At fall teacher conferences, she suggested he be evaluated for OT, which we did. She didn’t really go into detail on anything, and we felt like we were being rushed out of the building. But things really escalated at home in the past three months, and when she did talk to us, she seemed fixated on getting a diagnosis. I think some of it is that rigidity again, but some of it was that she knew we’d be pissed off if she suggested he needed one (because that seemed to be the only solution that she could come up with). After what we went through with his brother, I was watching for it, and I still don’t see it. I do see a lot of perfectionism, though.

4. GD - March 6, 2011

Elementary school is the worst for gifted children. The teachers are finally getting the type of student that they want, a bright, intelligent kid who wants to learn and do it perfect, but they have absolutely no clue how to handle them or to even see that they’re intelligent. A lot of times teachers will do what they did with your son, say they have a learning disability and push the student aside. It’s a horrible problem and can take years to correct or even make the student want to go to school again.

mareserinitatis - March 12, 2011

Agreed. I think the problem is that they have an idea of what giftedness is that is not grounded in evidence (especially when it comes to conformity). I really don’t understand why learning a little bit about both gifted and special ed isn’t required to earn an education degree.

5. FrauTech - March 7, 2011

I can’t imagine a generally underfunded system is really selecting for the best teachers. Even private school teachers have only proved they can jump through whatever hoops the administrators want them to. I don’t think it’s necessarily that the teacher doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a boy, mostly that our standards for little boys and little girls are very different. And what we “require” from a six year old girl is often what is “required” in school. I guess I feel like societal standards are to blame here again, not necessarily that boys always get the short end of the stick.

Maybe you can try that whole learned-intelligence thing with your younger boy as we were talking about on twitter. Sounds like he has many of the same behavior patterns of young, smart girls who get discouraged easily when they do not meet “perfect”. Maybe if you can start to give him the idea that his intelligence can improve over time he’ll do better and handle failures better. It’s tough being the younger kid sometimes.

mareserinitatis - March 12, 2011

I have noticed that there is a strong trend of holding a 3rd or 4th grade girl as the ideal student, at least when the teacher is a woman.

I think part of what he needs is some work that actually is challenging for him. But he also needs to be encouraged to just try things…and we need to make sure to let him know we don’t expect perfection.

6. innreach - March 9, 2011

Hi, I really liked this post of yours, I was drawn here, cause you appeared to have liked a post of mine too! ;-D.. I am so sorry for you, and can really relate.. I have two too…. one highly intelligent boy (really beyond the beyond with the usual bagage of difficulties over the years) and a daughter who is very bright too, but compares herself and what she can’t do to him.. spend ages trying to shore up her own unique areas.. but not easy as kids go.. ;-D Navigating parenthood, and gifted kids parenthood ain’t always easy… no matter where we live.. ;-D We have similare teacher issues over here in Ireland.. ;-D…

mareserinitatis - March 12, 2011

Thanks. I really enjoyed your post, as well. Thinking about writing a bit more on the topic when I have some time. I’ve been guilty of considering getting a degree in the area.

7. MommyProf - March 11, 2011

That sounds suspiciously like first grade for us – we also heard very concerning things only when we started being really pushy. We were just about to take Offspring out of public school, but when we investigated privates, realized that public schools do have a mandate to help kids, although you may have to push A LOT to get that to happen.

We also got some good advice on my blog to focus on teaching her stuff outside of school ourselves and being willing to say that getting a great experience in school or getting good grades or whatever, just was not going to be important to us. School did get better (still has its ups and downs, though), but our family life immediately got better.

But I know this sucks.

mareserinitatis - March 13, 2011

I’ve had a tough time with this. The problem with trying to do things outside of school is that, with homework, I don’t know when we’re supposed to do anything. (And both of them really drag their feet on homework.) I can also tell if they don’t get enough down time.

I guess that, after looking at it, it’s actually my preference that, if the school isn’t willing to accelerate them, we’re better off sticking them in daycare during the day and homeschooling in the evening. At daycare, they at least have the chance to play or have down time.

If this new place doesn’t go well, I may look into the public schools, but my primary concern is middle school. Older boy spent one year there, and it really messed him up emotionally. Took two years at the gifted school before he was over some of that, and we’re still having issues with some things. My feeling is that it’s better to just keep them out of middle school and let them go back for high school. :-)

8. Vicki - March 13, 2011

Innreach and mareserinitatis, I had one blindingly brilliant daughter followed by an amazingly smart, perfectionist daughter who compared herself and her abilities to her sister constantly. Fortunately, we had good teachers for both of them, and we patiently and constantly assured the younger one that she was who she was and we cherished her every bit as much as her older sister. One thing that helped was not to explain developmental levels, but to talk about how all people have their own ways of expressing their intelligence. Some people’s abilities are flashier than others, but all are equally to be respected. And time did it’s magic too. One is nearly 27 and the other is nearly 24 and the competition is over. Sometimes you just have to console and wait.


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