Why It’s Time to Stop Pushing Our Kids to Be “Gifted”

"Is that computer game educational?"

"I need to get my kid started on all his letter sounds now!"

"I really think my kid is special. He's so smart!"

You've probably said these things in some form or another in regard to your child. What mom doesn't want her kid to be bright and ahead of the game, especially in our digital world? However, we've become a bit too obsessed with pushing our kids as well as "discovering" if our kids are gifted or not.

It's not enough to be smart. It's not enough to just do the average load of work. Parents today want their kids to be nothing less than brilliant, and marketers, day cares, and the toy industry have capitalized on this. How many tutoring or day care centers throw around the words "genius," "Ivy League," and "brainiacs," etc.? How many toys drop those terms? It's so imperative to us that our kids be brilliant that we have forgotten the many other wonderful things kids and people bring to the table, besides being brilliant, and especially when they're not "gifted."

I mean, how many people and children can be truly gifted in this world, truly "genius" level IQ? Not many. If everyone was a genius, there would be no cancer and no diseases to speak of, period. The fact is, as smart as your kid is or as smart as you think your kid is, someone else's kid is smarter. And oh horrors of horrors, what if your child is just average or below the average for his or her current developmental stage? Is this child not worthy? Does this child not need a boost educationally? Will the kid fail later on in life?

As a former teacher, I have seen children who, while they weren't the brightest, they still shone because they had good people skills. Good life skills. On the flip side, some of the brightest kids had the toughest social troubles. Intelligences come in all different forms. One child may build well with her hands and not know a single letter, and the other child may know every letter yet not have a clue how to use scissors. Each child has his or her own intelligence levels and abilities, and this is what makes life wonderful. That one child will build bridges or fix cars, and perhaps the other will be a teacher or lawyer. Each child, each person, is needed in our society, yet as mothers and parents, we often push until we get that A, that gold star, that academic perfection.

Sometimes, the pushing is too much. I have seen parents shove and shove their kids in desperation for their standardized test scores to go up, and in response, the kids retreat and retreat further away. I have had parents tell me the kid had to get this grade or this particular score, all the while forgetting to consider that their kid is horrible in math, writing, or whatever the topic was. Just passing or reaching that average score was an achievement for these kids.

I say, enough already. Enough shoving your kids and pushing your kids to be little flash card readers, factoid spillers, and standardized test monkeys.

We all wish for a gifted kid — in some aspects. We all wish for our kid to be number one. But the truth is, our kids are already number one in our eyes. Isn't that enough as long as your kid tries his or her best and "feels" like a number one on the inside?

Indeed, there are many gifted children, and the parents of these kids have their own unique challenges in attending to the intellectual and social needs of their kiddos. Many try their hardest to help them strive in schools in which, more often than not, they're not getting challenged or supported. There are some gifted children who could outsmart an adult, but have no social graces or have other struggles that another parent of a nongifted child may not deal with. Perhaps the gifted child is also a social butterfly and so amazingly bright and the life of the party. There is no clear-cut category into which any child will fall. The point is that every child is unique and comes with his or her own challenges.

It's problematic, though, in that we all obsess over this assumption of high knowledge when it comes to our kids. Oddly enough, the parent pushing the educational computer games and workbooks is often missing the mark when it comes to real learning. It's not to say that workbooks and computer games don't have a lovely purpose and are worth using, but that real learning comes when a child is engaged, and often these workbooks and games are just input and output of facts and skills. It's not the same as real life. It's not the same as learning as you do it. Over-relying on these tools won't guarantee you a brilliant kid.

Let's not forget also that children learn best through play. Parents will count on those flash cards to teach Johnny his math facts, but discredit the fact that doing this is counterintuitive to how a young child learns, which is through play. Play is also good enough just as play, and not as a learning game with a goal to achieve. Playing tag, coloring, using dolls or puppets, and more are all play for play's sake and necessary for a child's development.

Not everything has to end with, "And this game teaches Jenny how to count in Spanish!"

If all we do is push our kids and never allow them to breathe, relax, and be themselves, later on in life, we will have a bunch of adults with encyclopedic minds without any life, flavor, creativity, or critical thinking skills in them. Instead of obsessing over your kids' grades and scores, (although they are indeed important — I am not devaluing them!), try appreciating your little ones as is, with their flaws and strengths. Try letting them be kids again, and not little bodies with hard-drive minds that you need to compute and dissect in terms of educational skills.

It would be nice if in this country, all of us, adults included, could just let loose and enjoy life a bit more again. If children could be children once more.