I Don’t Want My Kids to Be Smart

raising smart kidsToday’s society seems bent on raising academically intelligent children. There’s talk about what toys children should play with so they will be smart and what brain food parents should feed their babies. There’s a lot of smart-kid noise buzzing around. It hurts my ears. I’m not suggesting research is a bad thing but the application of it may be.

I want to ask this question: Is there a danger our society is shifting the value away from nurturing children so they can reach their potential (whatever that may be) to instead setting a steryotypical benchmark for children to meet? This reeks very much of the Tiger Mom mentality to me.

The Tiger Mom Phenomenon is something I’ve written about in length. I’ve covered my views on what success means to me in this post on SuperParents: What is Success? My own perspective on success is very different than the Tiger Mom top-down approach. The fact is, I don’t want my kids to be smart, I want them to feel loved. This is my motivation. I want to facilitate my children’s make-up, whether that be scientific, practical or creative. I believe being smart is not what IQ number defines you but how you utilise what you have. So in this way, I want my children to be confident in who they are so they can make good choices for themselves in the future.

The push for children to be academically successful is probably due to the perceived happiness derived from the result of such pursuits. However, this societal drive seems somewhat misplaced to me (and not at all accurate). This view actually seems very narrow-minded.

I’m flipping the coin here for a moment to look at how to raise a smart kid. I found this article: How to Raise a smart baby. Don’t be fooled by the title, it’s an interesting, well balanced article giving helpful tips without the guilt. Here are some of my favourite quotes:

“Confused by the sheer number of smart baby toys, books, and videos? Relax. All your baby really needs to boost brainpower is you.”

“While experts say baby brain development is still largely a mystery, what we do know is just how great a role natural parenting instincts can play in putting your baby on the fast track to success.”

“What mattered to babies a thousand years ago is still what matters today: You, the parent, are your baby’s best learning tool.”

I read it through and said, “YES!” Parents already have what it takes to raise successful children. My focus is not giving my kids a head start or burdening myself with reading a million parenting books, journals and news articles. Instead I invest my energy in ensuring my children know their worth, whether they be academically intelligent, hands on practical or wildly creative.

I love them. I be with them. I interact with them. I nurture them. I invest in them. I believe in them.

I think it’s easy for parents to be bogged down by all the talk because they love their kids and want the best for them. Personally, I give myself permission to turn down the noise and go with my gut, grounded by faith. It sort of comes in full circle, either way you look at it. It all starts with love.

Do find the smart kid talk noisy?

Other Links

What is Success?

Playing With Your Kids (a confession)


Are we over-organising our kids?

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Kelly loves life at both ends of the spectrum: wearing high heel shoes one day and hiking boots the next; sipping tea out of a pretty cup and slurping hot coffee from a camping mug; challenging herself physically and stopping for quiet unhurried moments to feel the wind on her face. Kelly and her husband Matthew seek to live a fun and adventurous life with their four children and pet bird.

Latest posts by Kelly - Be A Fun Mum (see all)


  1. says

    Great post. I totally agree. There is so much noise out there, and so many people trying to sell us stuff, that the central tenet of great parenting – you are what your kids need – is lost.

  2. says

    There are different kinds of smart, hey! Having confidence, social awareness, emotional awareness, resilience, flexibility etc… are all different ways of being “smart” and all impact upon a child’s success. I try and build on my kids strengths, whatever they are!

    • says

      Yes, I agree: there are many ways to “be smart”. I think it’s so important to know strengths/weaknesses too. This doesn’t only help with learning but personally and emotionally too.

  3. Amanda says

    We went to Miss M’s prep open day a few weeks back and all I heard was academic blah blah blah. I agree totally with your thinking and am very happy to turn down the smart kid noisy talk.

  4. says

    As a fairly new mum, I find this discussion fascinating. It’s something I thought about more theoretically before I actually had kids. For me, having kids has shaped and remoulded my perspective, and whilst I would probably never primarily gone down the “focus on academics” path, I probably would have given them more weight then than now. I actually found the posts on the SuperParents site about the Tiger Mum fascinating. I’m half Chinese, have lived in Singapore, but it’s my father who is Chinese. Made me curious about the role, or lack thereof, of Chinese fathers in all that, but I digress.

    • says

      Great to see you here Veronica! The entire Tiger Mom thing is very interesting. It made me have a bit of a think about my perspective on things…but in the end I found my self pretty much where I started ( ie. This post). I love having your personal insight.

  5. says

    Rocking this post :) It reminds me of the quote: “When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down “happy.” They told me I didn’t understand the assignment and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
    I just want my kids to be happy, whatever they decide to do :) And i want them to do their best, and i’ll love them no matter what!

  6. Anwen says

    There are many different ways to be smart, which teachers should know. Well, it was a big part of my teacher training anyway… the media likes to tell parents that schools are failing our kids in literacy etc when we have one of the highest success rates in the world! Some people are just not cut out to be academic.
    Also, a lot of toys claiming to be ‘smart’ toys and give kids a headstart are actually completely useless. The best toys are the old-fashioned kind: blocks and peg boards and cups and buckets and paints and lots of DIRT!

  7. says

    Such a great post. I totally agree with you. My daughter *is* going to be a “smart kid” I think, not because of anything we’ve done but because it’s who she is she just loves learning and picks things up very quickly. It’s not a goal for us though and it doesn’t mean anything as long as she knows she is loved and valuable. :)

  8. says

    Hi Kelly,

    I recently discovered your blog and subscribed – thank you! Great post – I often have this nagging feeling that I ought to be doing more to extend my two boys. At the same time I remember back to the big controversy that Little Einsteins show/products had a few years ago: their claims that their products were educational weren’t able to be shown using research and all these moms got upset over it, feeling bad that their best intentions weren’t actually coming to anything. Kids can learn from the simplest of things (water, being outside, talking, walking…) without the latest fancy educational toys.

  9. says

    I just want a happy, healthy, safe child. That’s it. I put myself through hell after reading all these intelligent baby shit. I panicked and got the baby sign, baby einsten, baby can read dvds OMG. Waste of money.

  10. Catherine says

    I’m so with you, Kelly. I keep having arguments with the teachers at my children’s school (education in Peru is very results focussed) that I don’t actually care what score they get on their exams and as my children are 5 and 6, I don’t even feel the need for them to do exams. I want them to get a star or a good mark for doing their best, not for completing something perfectly.
    I also worry that the idea that only the “correct” answer is acceptable destroys creativity and makes them less likely to experiment so at home I try to compensate by giving them problems with no right answer or lots of possible ways of arriving at the end. I also praise effort, enthusiasm and creativity and give less attention to the final product. Sadly home education is not legal here but I’m constantly disappointed in the emphasis of formal education here and imagine I’ll continue to fight with the school throughout their time there.

    • says

      Catherine, it’s fascinating to hear about the schooling systems in other countries. Tests for 5 year olds? Wow! Sounds like you are doing an awesome job at keeping the balance in a difficult situation. Thanks so much for sharing…it’s so interesting to hear from other people.

  11. says

    Great post Kelly and a philosophy I share with you wholeheartedly. As an OT, we tend to focus on life skills, and celebrate the successes for each child depending on what’s important to them and their families. We are never focussed on academic achievements. Moreso on self care skills, social/ communication skills, and functional skills that prepare kids for life. I am also a Mum of young girls and their happiness and feeling of self worth is my priority. I know that while they feel loved, capable, and accepted, they will always be ok.

    • says

      Beautifully said Nicole. In my dealings with OTs with my daughter, I found their approach amazingly balanced. It really resonated with me; it all made sense. I love the focus on life skills etc. There is so much of this wholistic approach that is missing in our schools.

  12. says

    I’m wondering if the wholistic approach that’s missing …and I totally agree it is…is because the decision makers perceive that the majority of parents want their kids to succeed academically and could care less about creativity and social skills. I don’t even know if that’s an accurate perception – but it may be. There’s a lot of pressure on kids to read advanced books say, and move on from picture books as too babyish.

    • says

      Yes, you may be right. There just seems to be a real focus on academic abilities. And also university. University is wonderful but many young people I know are just doing degrees because it’s the thing to do but don’t enjoy the job that comes at the end of it (or there’s no work out there for them). There seems to be a real sortage of skilled people in the workforce too. It’s interesting to see how society’s views affect things as a whole. Interesting.

  13. michelle says

    Wow, this is an amazing read. I also jumped onto the link for the Tiger Mum story – I was lost for words and am not sure what I think about that!!
    I just want my children to grow into HAPPY well adjusted people :-)

  14. Alissa says

    Great post. Just love your thoughts on this. Intelligence is far from just academics, although sadly is not often recognised as such in the broader society and in our school systems.
    I do want the best for my children, but not at a sacrifice to their happiness. And they need to know they are loved, and special and valuable. That is enough.

    • says

      No, you’re right, other forms of intelligence seem not to be valued so much in today’s climate. If this is indeed true, It will be interesting to see what the future will be like.

  15. Sian says

    Great post and so true……….I want my daughter to feel secure in who she was created to be, whether or not that includes being a scientist or a hairdresser is completely irrelevant to me. I want her to have the confidence to achieve her dreams that will utilise all her amazing qualities and to always know she is loved, regardless of her choices. Yes having the tools to achieve is important, but I think there’s way too much emphasis on excellence in academics, rather than excellence in humanities!

  16. Nancy says

    Wow so good to read some common sence. Loving unconditionally . Giveing your child a wide varity of experiences and letting them choose a path that makes them happy and supporting and encouraging this is my parenting plan , I find a lot of people think buying exspencive toys and brand named clothes a substitute for there time when there is no substitute .

  17. Melissa says

    I worked in childcare for 15 yrs, about 6 of them working with under 2’s. It would always amaze me, the amount of parents that would come in and expect their baby to be “taught” specific things. My standard line was always “No I wont teach them to sign, draw like a master, or recognise their name, but I will pick them up and give them cuddles, I will respond to them when they are sad, and I will do my best to make sure they are happy during the day.” I do not believe that just being ‘smart’ makes you a great person. If you have no social skills, or empathy for others, life would be very hard. Great article Kelly :)

  18. Pepita says

    My daughter is an amazing reader and the first question people ask is often “What did you do before she started school, you must have started teaching her to read” but what I did was carry my daughter in a sling, respond to her needs, read books to her for an hour at pre-school drop off until she was ready for me to leave, have lots of special Mummy and daughter time. She could only read her name when she started school but she was amazingly confident and ready to soak knowledge up like a sponge. She was also blessed with a wonderful nurturing kindergarten teacher who adored every child in the class. People are often amazed that the boost my daughter had was just my time, my attention and my love.

  19. Marina says

    If anyone is interested in a more wholistic approach to schooling, you may like to Google Steiner schools and/or playgroups.
    The Kindermusik programs for 0-7yr olds are also heavily influenced by Steiner philosophies.
    It’s also interesting to note that for NAPLAN testing in Australian schools, while compulsary for the school to hold the test it is not compulsary for the child to participate (the parent can inform the school that they don’t want their child to participate)

  20. says

    As far as I know, being emotionally smart has a much higher contribution to a person’s success in life than academic achievement. As a mum I still try to help my kids with their school work, however for me, it’s way more important to focus on the things that are going to instill confidence, self esteem, resilience and optimism. I might get left for dead when my son starts bringing home grade 5 homework soon (it’s been a long time), but I’ll certainly be able to continue teaching him the stuff that really counts no matter how old he is.

  21. says

    Yes! I do agree, and I am driven a bit mental by all the toys and, FFS TV shows & DVDs that are supposed to make your baby “smart”. Get real.

    Having said that, I grew up in a family where the focus on academic/ traditionally “masculine” intelligence was pretty strong. And so did my husband. So we are both very conscious of the desire not to falsely value that sort of intelligence in our kids, to give them the impression that it is more important than say, emotional intelligence, or creativity – but it’s a struggle. It is one of the reasons we’ve sent them to a Steiner school (the other reasons being that it seemed absolute tailor made for our first born, and that we fell in love with the community).

  22. sylvia says

    i’ve always believed that whilst there are different “smarts” there are also different ways to learn. teachers often forget this or don’t get given the opportunity to notice and experiment with their students’ needs as students.
    i want my kids to be smart, about themselves. i want them to find and experiment with what they enjoy learning about and thinking about, and how they like to learn, i want them to look at why they like learning this and not that. my year three teacher told my mum who was having trouble with my brother’s education, that they can tell us what we have to learn and how it is to be learned but a child will always learn how they learn. like if you only talk at a child about building a fence when that child is active by nature, than you may as well be talking to the pickets. but you get that child to help you build a fence and explain it as you go than you’ve a greater chance that he’ll be able to do it himself next time.

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