One of the most impressive and amazing things about humans are how many different ways we find to observe the world, consider what we see, express ourselves, share ideas, and solve problems. We're born this way; as parents, we get to see proof of this innate ability when we watch our curious children experiment with the world around them. Whether they go on to be bookish and studious or rebellious and creative, or any of the other of the myriad ways people express intelligence, there are certain things that smart kids just know; things we desperately need to value and nurture in them.
It's not easy to keep the brilliance we're all born with. In my own experience, growing up in a family that emphasized perfectionism and obedience — to say nothing of spending life in a society that says "smart" looks like everything I'm not, and believes girls and women should be looked at rather than listened to — meant just by being my curious, strong-willed self I was constantly risking punishment at home and social isolation amongst my peers. I'm grateful that I was able to hold onto my innate curiosity, drive, and sense of self, because I know I'm happier and better off for it. However, I wish it hadn't been such a struggle. If there had been more adults around me who recognized that it's good when kids ask inconvenient questions or stand up for themselves or even point out when adults are wrong, staying true to myself might have been a far less stressful, lonely experience.
I still had some unlearning and relearning to do; that's a fact of life for all of us. Still, I'm striving to raise kids who protect their authenticity and honor their own intuition, because that's how they'll stay on the path to becoming their happiest, most ethical, and most powerful selves. Smart kids intuitively know the following, and it's important that we help all kids cultivate this occasionally difficult knowledge.
Adults Aren’t Always Right
No one knows everything, and that includes adults; even (and sometimes especially) the ones in charge. Smart kids recognize that adults are wrong sometimes, and even if it's not always safe to openly challenge them when they are, it's still an important thing to understand. They need to know that everyone is capable of making a mistake and/or being outright incorrect, in order to protect themselves and their sense of right and wrong (especially when adults are abusing their power).
It's Important To Ask Questions…
Sometimes, they just need to clarify instructions. Other times, they want to understand deep issues in the world. Either way, smart kids are no stranger to the “five Ws,” and they keep seeking answers even if they don't get great responses at first.
...And Question Everything
Smart kids also note the dissonance between how things are supposed to be, and how they are. They may not always be able to articulate or act on their understandings in the most sophisticated way, but they notice it all and they question why on a pretty regular basis.
Learning Is Fun
Smart kids enjoy learning new things, and they recognize that learning isn't just something to do at school. They tinker with things around the house (even when said exploration looks "naughty" to us), read for pleasure, embrace different hobbies, and just pay close attention to the world around them, because it’s inherently gratifying to learn new skills, gain more knowledge, and solve your own problems.
It's OK To Be Yourself…
Smart kids see how they differ from other people, and while it may give them some difficulty at times, they ultimately accept their little quirks. They know deep down that they're smart people who have a lot to offer the world, and they don't want to change that.
...Even Though People Don't Always Act That Way
Though some folks (including, sadly, many adults) may tease or otherwise shame them for being their true selves, they recognize that it's more important for them to hold onto who they are, than forget themselves in order to fit in.
It's Possible To Keep An Open Mind…
Having an open, curious mind is what lets us learn, and smart kids love learning.
...While Staying True To Yourself
But smart kids also run every new thing they learn against their own preferences, needs, and beliefs, then decide whether they need to update their beliefs accordingly, or reject something about what they've just learned.
Never Ignore Your Gut Feelings
Smart kids understand that that voice inside of them is important, and that when they go against it bad things can happen. Over time, they recognize that the same voice that drives them to be curious and ask questions, is the one that tells them, “Something’s not right here.I should go.”
If it's worth listening to while researching or asking other questions, it's worth listening to in dicey social environments and other situations that are going downhill.
It's Important To Stand Up For Yourself
Standing up for yourself means defending and protecting that inner voice that helps you learn and keeps you safe, rather than learning to ignore that voice and accept ideas and treatment from others that you believe are wrong. Smart kids may occasionally be labeled "troubled," "defiant" or other problematic terms for doing so (especially if they're standing up to adults instead of other kids), but they understand that being who they are means challenging people who use social pressure or authority to try to force them to be something else. That kind of wisdom will save them again and again in life.