How do you Raise a Genius?


Recommended, of course.

Special Announcement: I have launched a new blog, “Unpaused Books“, for my Homeschooling Corner posts and reviews of children’s literature. (The title is a pun.) I try to keep the posts entertaining, in my usual style.

Back to genius:

“My kid is a genius.”

It feels rather like bragging, doesn’t it? So distasteful. No one likes a braggart. Ultimately, though, someone has to be a genius–or brilliant, gifted, talented–it’s a statistical inevitability.

So let’s compromise. Your kid’s the genius; I’m just a very proud parent with a blog.

So how do you raise a genius? Can you make a kid a genius?

Unfortunately, kids don’t come with instructions. As far as anyone can tell, there’s no reliable way to transform an average person into a genius (the much bally-hooed “growth mindset” might be useful for getting a kid to concentrate for a few minutes, but it has no long-term effects:

A growing number of recent studies are casting doubt on the efficacy of mindset interventions at scale. A large-scale study of 36 schools in the UK, in which either pupils or teachers were given training, found that the impact on pupils directly receiving the intervention did not have statistical significance, and that the pupils whose teachers were trained made no gains at all. Another study featuring a large sample of university applicants in the Czech Republic used a scholastic aptitude test to explore the relationship between mindset and achievement. They found a slightly negative correlation, with researchers claiming that ‘the results show that the strength of the association between academic achievement and mindset might be weaker than previously thought’. A 2012 review for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in the UK of attitudes to education and participation found ‘no clear evidence of association or sequence between pupils’ attitudes in general and educational outcomes, although there were several studies attempting to provide explanations for the link (if it exists)’. In 2018, two meta-analyses in the US found that claims for the growth mindset might have been overstated, and that there was ‘little to no effect of mindset interventions on academic achievement for typical students’.).

Of course, there are many ways to turn a genius into a much less intelligent person–such as dropping them on their head.

IQ score distribution chart for sample of 905 children tested on 1916 Stanford–Binet Test, from from Terman’s The Measurement of Intelligence

While there is no agreed-upon exact cut-off for genius, it is generally agreed to correlate more or less with the right side of the IQ bell-curve–though exceptions exist. Researchers have studied precocious and gifted children and found that, yes, they tend to turn out to be talented, high-achieving adults:

Terman’s goal was to disprove the then-current belief that gifted children were sickly, socially inept, and not well-rounded. …

Based on data collected in 1921–22, Terman concluded that gifted children suffered no more health problems than normal for their age, save a little more myopia than average. He also found that the children were usually social, were well-adjusted, did better in school, and were even taller than average.[25] A follow-up performed in 1923–1924 found that the children had maintained their high IQs and were still above average overall as a group. …

Well over half of men and women in Terman’s study finished college, compared to 8% of the general population at the time.[31] Some of Terman’s subjects reached great prominence in their fields. Among them were head I Love Lucy writer Jess Oppenheimer,[32] American Psychological Association president and educational psychologist Lee Cronbach,[33] Ancel Keys,[34] and Robert Sears himself.[32] Over fifty men became college and university faculty members.[35] However, the majority of study participants’ lives were more mundane.

The only really useful parenting advice IQ researchers have come up with so far is to make sure your son or daughter has appropriately challenging school work.


The SMPY data supported the idea of accelerating fast learners by allowing them to skip school grades. In a comparison of children who bypassed a grade with a control group of similarly smart children who didn’t, the grade-skippers were 60% more likely to earn doctorates or patents and more than twice as likely to get a PhD in a STEM field6. …

Skipping grades is not the only option. SMPY researchers say that even modest interventions — for example, access to challenging material such as college-level Advanced Placement courses — have a demonstrable effect.

This advice holds true whether one’s children are “geniuses” or not. All children benefit from activities matched to their abilities, high or low; no one benefits from being bored out of their gourd all day or forced into activities that are too difficult to master. It also applies whether a child’s particular abilities lie in schoolwork or not–some children are amazingly talented at art, sports, or other non-academic skills.

Homeschooling, thankfully, allows you to tailor your child’s education to exactly their needs. This is especially useful for kids who are advanced in one or two academic areas, but not all of them, or who have the understanding necessary for advanced academics, but not the age-related maturity to sit through advanced classes.

That all said, gifted children are still children, and all children need time to play, relax, and have fun. They’re smart–not robots.

10 thoughts on “How do you Raise a Genius?

  1. How / when do you know you have a genius child? Suppose you have a smart kid with Asperger. He/she will be good from 7-8, when it is mostly about bookish learning. But at 3, 4, 5, when learning is mostly about doing things, it is hard to say if your kid is not learning to dress herself because she has low IQ, or just Asperger, or simply does not care / is lazy.


    • Sometimes you just have to wait and see.

      It can be very tricky when a child’s other developmental skills get in the way of showing their true mental skills. Like, a child with very bad motor coordination may not be able to write down the answers to math/reading questions, even though they actually know the answers. Then you run into the problem of teachers getting really focused on the skills that they lack rather than the skills they have.

      Of course, dealing with a child who will not or cannot dress himself at the appropriate age is extremely frustrating. For a teacher, work that is impossible to read is also frustrating. It seems very easy for these kids to get caught in a trap where no one recognizes their brilliance because they are all so focused on these petty external things. I remember a woman I spoke to once who had attended MIT whose kindergarten teachers refused to let her read books because they were convinced she couldn’t read because she couldn’t run in a figure 8. There was some educational fad for a while that claimed that children weren’t developmentally ready to read (and therefore couldn’t do it) before they had the coordination to run in a figure 8. Of course this was utter nonsense; normally developing children do acquire coordination skills and alphabetic skills at about the same time, but the one doesn’t *cause* the other, and she was just a clumsy kid.

      Some kids are late bloomers. Some are just late. All parents need a lot of patience.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I had to get a special permission back then to make the larger homeworks with a typewriter. Had no chance at writing readably. And that running in an 8 sounds slightly difficult even now. Depends on how big 8.

        Modern technology is a big help to the clumsy. Learning to type was so much easier than to write. And while free weights are great for the well coordinated, exercise machines are a godsend to the clumsy who otherwise would not do anything like sport at all.

        I don’t know the current status of clumsiness science i.e. neuromotoric coordination, but the strange thing observing myself was that subconscious coordination like balancing a bike or typing without looking on the keyboard was OK. The problems were when I tried to consciously control it, throwing a ball accurately or suchlike, that is what blocked it. And if I very rarely managed to got into a “flow” state, I could throw balls accurately, when I no longer consciously wanted to do, just Zen-flowing. Really strange. Meaning it is not that the neuromotoric system was buggy, but some part of the conscious brain blocked it.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. It’s depressing just how little good research there is on education of smart kids (indeed, on education in general). Are they happier in selective schools with peers like them? Does going to selective schools increase their competence in later life? Are the grade skippping kids happier? Do they have bigger social networks in later life? Instead of finding the simple answers to these we waste all our money trying to turn coal into diamonds.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Anecdotally, thats my sense as well. I just wish someone would make the point factually as well. Would be fairly simple for anyone with access to the UK’s 11 plus exam data, just find people just on the border above/below the grammar school entry threshold and compare social network size on Facebook (using that as a proxy for number of friends/happiness). If the debate about selective education could be transformed this way into one about whether or not kids should be happy, it would make the argument much easier: the loony left want child abuse and bullying, we don’t.

        Liked by 1 person

      • This is a good idea. To be fair, it looks like something similar has been studied. quoting from the article I linked,

        “The SMPY data supported the idea of accelerating fast learners by allowing them to skip school grades. In a comparison of children who bypassed a grade with a control group of similarly smart children who didn’t, the grade-skippers were 60% more likely to earn doctorates or patents and more than twice as likely to get a PhD in a STEM field6. Acceleration is common in SMPY’s elite 1-in-10,000 cohort, whose intellectual diversity and rapid pace of learning make them among the most challenging to educate. Advancing these students costs little or nothing, and in some cases may save schools money, says Lubinski. “These kids often don’t need anything innovative or novel,” he says, “they just need earlier access to what’s already available to older kids.”

        “Many educators and parents continue to believe that acceleration is bad for children — that it will hurt them socially, push them out of childhood or create knowledge gaps. But education researchers generally agree that acceleration benefits the vast majority of gifted children socially and emotionally, as well as academically and professionally.”

        Then there’s a link to this study:

        “Current empirical research about the effects of acceleration on high-ability learners’ academic achievement and social— emotional development were synthesized using meta-analytic techniques. A total of 38 primary studies conducted between 1984 and 2008 were included. The results were broken down by developmental level (P-12 and postsecondary) and comparison group (whether the accelerants were compared with same-age, older, or mixed-age peers). The findings are consistent with the conclusions from previous meta-analytic studies, suggesting that acceleration had a positive impact on high-ability learners’ academic achievement (g = 0.180, 95% CI = -.072, .431, under a random-effects model). In addition, the social—emotional development effects appeared to be slightly positive (g = 0.076, 95% CI = -.025, .176, under a random-effects model), although not as strong as for academic achievement. No strong evidence regarding the moderators of the effects was found.”

        Even better, of course, would be being around kids their own age with similar IQs.


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