Is There Intelligent Life in Your Living Room?

Dear Mr. Dad: This might sound silly, but is there some way to tell if my daughter is a genius? She’s only seven but I think she’s a lot smarter than I am.

A: As parents, we’re always worried about how our kids are doing, and there’s no shortage of information on warning signs of some terrible condition, or red flags that might indicate something else. But it’s pretty rare to read about signs that our kids might be above average instead of below.

You’d think it would be a you-know-it-when-you-see-it kind of thing. And it can be. Sometimes. In England, a 4-year-old girl was recently accepted into Mensa (mensa.org)—a society of geniuses. Officially, one has to be a teenager to get accepted, but this little girl’s IQ came in at 159 (Einstein and Stephen Hawking just squeaked past her at 160). By age two she had taught herself to add and subtract and was reading elementary school books.

Cases like this are quite rare. And I’d bet that for every one of them, there are at least 10 kids who are just as smart but whose high intelligence goes unnoticed because they’re bored out of their minds and spend their time screwing around instead of working.

So what are the” warning” signs of extreme intelligence? Here are a few indicators suggested by the American Association of Gifted Children (aagc.org). Your daughter may be a genius (IQ of 140+), or just gifted (IQ of 110-140) if she:

  • seems much more mature than other kids her age.
  • has trouble interacting with her agemates and prefers to hang out with older kids or adults.
  • developed language skills early. That could have shown up as skipping the babytalk and going straight to full sentences, or teaching herself to read. My middle daughter scared me half to death when, at the ripe young age of three, she started reading signs on stores we were driving by.
  • regularly questions authority.  This doesn’t necessarily mean she has no respect for authority, just that she asks a lot of really tough questions.
  • is easily bored.
  • Is incredibly curious and absorbs new information the first time she hears it.
  • likes to collect, organize, compare, and contrast.

If a few of the above are true for your child, it’s probably worth getting her tested.

Okay, assuming your daughter is really, really smart. Now what? Here are a few ways you can nurture and encourage her intelligence even if she is the smartest person in the room—including you.

  • Read. Talk about the stories, the subplots in the illustrations. Encourage her imagination by asking her to make up another story using the same characters.
  • Minimize exposure to “educational” videos or “brain-building” games—most of which are neither. What she really needs is live interactions with other people.
  • Talk about everything and anything. Ask a lot of questions and listen to the answers. You’ll probably learn something. Things like, What would happen if we dropped this uncooked egg on the rug? What about if we tossed it out a car window while we’re driving?
  • Don’t push too hard—or too little. On one hand you don’t want her to burn out. On the other, a brilliant child who’s lazy will eventually be left in the dust by a plain, old bright kid who works hard.
  • Be the adult. Yes, your child may be smarter than you, but she still needs your help navigating the world. Hopefully you’ve got more knowledge and common sense.
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