Care and Feeding

My 8-Year-Old Is a Supergenius

Should I be pushing him harder in school?

A smart kid wearing glasses.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thinkstock.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I just got my 8-year-old’s MAP test scores back, and they are off the charts. He’s in the 99th percentile for both reading and math, and his reading Lexile corresponds to grade 12-plus—one of the books recommended for his Lexile is Kafka’s Metamorphosis!

I always knew the kid was bright, but this has me second-guessing his education. Am I dropping the ball by keeping him in a regular-class situation? I like his teacher, and while he thinks that my kid should be challenging himself more in class (he tends to do the bare minimum so he can get back to reading), he thinks it is on my son to take the more difficult options in class. Is 8 old enough to take responsibility for his own learning and delay the gratification of getting back into a book he loves?

I don’t want to blow a standardized test out of proportion, but I also want to make sure my kid is getting the most out of school. I’m concerned that he will get bored and stop liking school. I’m even more worried that if he isn’t challenged, he won’t learn how to do hard things now and at some point in the future will run away from difficulties because he will have become so habituated to everything coming easily.

What should I do? Do I even need to do anything? He’s at an international school in Asia, so there is no gifted program or Individualized Education Program or district solution. I’m already making him learn Chinese.

—Am I “That Mom” or Does My Kid Need More?

Dear AITMoDMKNM,

You are “that mom.” And by that mom I mean: You are no doubt 1,000 times more excited by this than he is.

Congratulations on your little Kafka reader, but I think you can take a few deep breaths. If he’s smart now, he’ll be smart later. As of yet, you have seen no evidence that he’s bored or that his intelligence is interfering with his learning. He’s learning Chinese; that’s great. He’s not pushing himself in class, fine. Maybe he doesn’t want to. Yet. So what, then, is the goal of pushing him externally? So that you can grow a supergenius with an inferiority complex? Have you never read a comic book, ma’am? This is how villains are made! I tend to side with your son’s teacher. If there is more the kid should be doing in class, maybe let’s just focus on getting him to do more in class.

More will be revealed. As the years progress, you will learn more about his intelligence and what he wants to do with it. You will no doubt also find out what his Achilles’ heels are—those thoughts, attitudes, and habits that he will have to struggle with, and that his Lexile score will not help with at all. And you will let that influence which educational choices you and he make together. In the meantime, let him make full use of his classroom, toss him a book or two at home, and spend some time examining how much of your desire to have him rocket onto the genius track has nothing to do with him and everything to do with your own pride.