What does “smart” mean anyway?

By Laura Smith|July 5, 2017|Uncategorized|

Today was a day I have been dreading.  It was a perfectly normal day.  My 7 year old with apraxia and my 4 year old without apraxia were waiting with me outside my office for one of my clients’ mom to come and watch them.

Jace apparently had struck up conversation with another tenant.  She was so tickled by him she had to come out and tell me their conversation.  Jace is my 5 year old son. I’m honestly not bragging when I say his language skills are well above average. It’s honestly just a fact.  Talking to him is sometimes like talking to a man in a boy’s body, and it can be very entertaining because he is actually in the less than 10th percentile for weight and height.

This lovely woman came out to tell me how precocious he was, and relayed their conversation.  He smiled sheepishly.  Ashlynn, my daughter with apraxia, just listened.

The lady then asked them their ages.  Jace answered for both of them.

“I’m four and my big sister is seven,” he announced confidently.

The woman then turned her focus onto Ashlynn.  She smiled a playful smile and asked,

“Who is the smartest?  You are your brother?”

Before I had time to process the question, Ashlynn pointed at Jace.  Jace just beamed. He neither acknowledged the statement, nor denied it.

The lady stumbled, confused.  “What?? You don’t mean that!  You think your little brother is smarter?” she challenged playfully.

Ashlynn smiled and nodded her head yes.

I just stood there…..broken.  I was sad I couldn’t praise my son for being so smart and I was sad Ashlynn, who is almost three years older, pointed to him without a shadow of doubt.


Where’s the manual?  How do I handle this one? How do I support Jace’s gifts without squashing Ashlynn’s?  Why does society care more about book smarts than people smarts?  Why are book smarts the definition of “smart?”

My children are smart in very different ways.  Jace will nail an IQ test.  He just will.  I know he will pass with flying colors every subtest as confidently as I know Ashlynn will struggle with them.  However, Ashlynn will get along better with people.  She has an incredible emotional intelligence, and a gift for connecting to and with people; but that gift isn’t what people are asking if they ask if you are smart.

How do I not only support BOTH my kids, but praise and challenge them for their unique skill set?  How do I do it and not squash the other’s light?

There is no manual, as I said, so I’m just running solo.  I took them both aside separately tonight and praised them for their talents.  I told Ashlynn that school may be hard for her, but getting along with and understanding people is how she is smart.  She is one of the smartest kids in that area.  I never get much back but a smile and a nod, so I just hope she heard me.  I told her she was book smart too but she would have to work harder because of her apraxia, but that she can and will be ANYTHING she wants to be.

I took Jace aside and told him how proud I was he was smart and also that he was humble. I was proud that he didn’t brag he was smart.  I told him I knew he was smart.  School will come easy. Sports will come easy and he is a natural.  I told him these were his talents, but that his sister has talents too.  She understands people and how to get along.  Her smarts may not be in school, but rather in relationships.

I still feel awful.  I feel terrible Ashlynn doesn’t feel she’s smarter than her younger brother, and I feel terrible I can’t praise him and brag about him like I might do otherwise if he didn’t have an older sister with global apraxia and learning disabilities.

So, what is a mother to do? I love them both equally.   They are both incredible humans in VERY different ways.  How do I support each one without squashing the other?  I read this blog post recently by a teacher who sought to eliminate “smart” from our vocabularies.  I absolutely love the article and she makes amazing good points in a very succinct piece.

At any rate, we should praise our kids for what they are smart “at.”  Saying someone is smart is a compliment, but the why is pretty ambiguous.  People have told me I am smart, and they have told my husband he is smart.  He’s an engineer and is good at math and science, I’m an SLP and am good at words and language. We are both smart, but in two COMPLETELY different ways.  Comparing each other is pretty silly.  Put either of us in our weakness, and we are going to look pretty “not” smart.

Anyway, I think I have my solution.  I’m going to tell my kids they are smart.  Both of them.  But I am going to follow it up with a description.  You are so smart because you got along with a group of people you didn’t even know and managed to have a good time.  You’re so smart because you wanted to know how something worked and you took the time and figured it out.  You’re so smart because even though writing is hard for you, you know if you keep trying you will get it.

What do you all think?

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