Child Development: Tami and Keith

Child Development: Tami and Keith
Is your child gifted or behind the curve?

"I'm really, really smart," says Dillon, 7. "I think I'm the smartest person in the state."

His parents, Tami and Keith, say that Dillon began talking at 18 months, playing piano at 2 and reading at 4 years old. "He was ahead of the game

on a lot of things," says Tami, the mother of three. "We don't want to make our other children feel that they're any less. We do worry that Dillon thinks he's more special than everybody else."

Dillon admits, "I do think I'm different than other kids because I'm really smart."

Tami and Keith worry about what to do with their child who's ahead of the curve academically, but not quite as developed socially. "At one point he came home crying because another kid punched him in the stomach," Keith says. They also worry that Dillon may be getting bored in school. How far should they push Dillon, and when should they stop and just let him be a child?

Dr. Phil's first concern is about what Dillon has been saying. "There were three or four references in the tape by him about how smart he is ... Who told him he's so smart?" Dr. Phil asks Keith and Tami.

Tami explains that it started early, with the teachers giving him advanced reading materials and telling Dillon he is smart.

"So you've essentially given him the message that, 'You're different,'" probes Dr. Phil.

"We try to tell all of our kids that they're different, that they're special in different ways," says Tami.

When Dr. Phil points out that tests did not indicate that Dillon was gifted, Tammi explains, "Yeah, the tester actually came out and said that he outsmarted part of the test. That he figured out that after a certain amount of wrong answers he would get to go out to play and have a snack."

"I've been a psychometrician for 30 years and I've never had that happen by the way," says Dr. Phil. "I'm not saying he's not gifted. I don't know ... It just jumped out at me that I've got a kid here looking into the camera saying, 'I'm smart.' That doesn't seem like a good thing to me."

Dr. Phil recommends that Tami and Keith speak with Dillon's teachers about not setting him apart from the other kids. "There are a lot of really smart kids who absolutely take a step back and start failing purposely because they don't want to be seen as a brainiac," says Dr. Phil. "So that could be part of the social problem."

Dr. Phil also warns them about something called Iatrogenic labeling. "Latrogenic labeling is when a label causes more problems than the condition it describes," he explains.

Another common mistake that parents make is deciding their child is gifted when they show promise in one particular area. "There's intelligence I.Q., but there's also social I.Q., emotional I.Q., adaptive I.Q.," says Dr. Phil. "There's all of these things to see how well the child does across the board. I think what you're seeing is you've got a strength in one area, like maybe reading, and a weakness in another area in terms of social sensitivity and interaction skills ... And I'm not saying that your child isn't special."

Tami and Keith want to know how hard they should push Dillon.

"I don't believe in pushing kids," says Dr. Phil. Instead, he says, "Pave some paths for them, make opportunities available to them, because if a child is curious, if they are gifted, bright, inquisitive ... and they are gifted in an area, they will gravitate to that."

Dr. Phil also thinks it's very important for parents of multiple children to cultivate a separate relationship with each child. "You need to find something with each of your kids that you do only with them. It's like that's your secret," explains Dr. Phil. For example, "'Dad only does the computer with me,' or 'Mom only plays this musical instrument with me.' So they know there's that special thing that they have just with you. And if Dillon right now is absorbing more of your time and energy to figure things out and keep him stimulated, you can really ameliorate that problem if you really cultivate that separate and special relationship with each of the other children."

Dr. Phil continues: "My recommendation to you is to not push this kid, that you give him lots of opportunities, and support what he naturally gravitates toward. You said his number one thing is reading. That's good because a library is cheap ... Give him the opportunity and see if he embraces it."