How to Teach Your Kids to Sound Smart (Especially If They’re Not)

Posted on March 15, 2011


Parents have so many worries:

Will Tyler make friends at his new school?
Will Kaitlyn make the soccer team?
How long before people discover Tyler is very, very dumb?

Poor Tyler. You’ve tried to defend him: “Maybe he’s not book smart, but he’s street smart.”

But time has revealed he’s not street smart either, sending you on a frantic search of the Internet, hoping for any hint of a scientific breakthrough discovering a third category of smart.  You enter search terms like ‘video game smart,’ ‘staring smart,’ ‘fork misses mouth smart,’  hoping against hope that this third category of smart may reveal itself through symptoms such as petting the family car, walking into screen doors, sniffing the cat’s butt, and living in the same apartment complex for ten years and still pushing the door plainly marked ‘Pull.’

Searching for new definitions of intelligence can be demanding on single parents without a partner to share the load.  A second parent can be in charge of asking doctors if book smart could also mean good at driving a bookmobile.  Or meeting with real estate agents who will find homes for sale on streets where Tyler may qualify as street smart.

How is your kid going to survive in this world? Get a job?  Trick somebody into marriage?  (Sigh)…thank goodness Caitlin is good-looking, right?

Uh-oh, not good-looking either?

My solution is to train your kids to assertively make first impressions of intelligence, followed by a vigilant silence that may prevent discovery for months or even a year, certainly long enough for Katelyn to some day ace a job interview and win five to six months of employment.

Or long enough for Tyler to win ten to fifteen first dates, a minimum threshold recommended by scientists to find the ten percent of women willing to take on dumb guy projects.

But you ask, how can my child be assertively smart?  The trick is to create opportunities to sound intelligent.  I emphasize create because dumb kids can’t afford to wait for the topic to drift to something they understand.  Kaitlin might be waiting a long, long time.

Dedicate a night each week to teach them the methods below. I suggest you make a game of it.  “Hey kids, ready to create opportunities to sound smart and neutralize those pesky Intelligence Detectives! (Intelligence Detectives = teachers, schoolmates, your competitive siblings who brag about their kids all the time)

Tip # 1:

Kids and adults frequently defend themselves by saying, “She made me sound like such a bad guy. It’s not like I’m Hitler or something.” We always use Hitler as the benchmark of evil, but couldn’t your son memorize the following dialogue and say,

“My baseball coach always says I’m a poor sport…um…also poor at sports.  He makes me sound like such a bad guy, but it’s not like I’m Idi Amin or something.”
The Intelligence Detective shakes his head.
Your child continues, “You know Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator?  Killed 500,000 of the Acholi and Lango ethnic tribes?”
The Intelligence Detective shakes his head.
“Okay…well, it’s not like I’m Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia ?”
The Intelligence Detective shakes his head.
“Um…let me think of somebody you would know…it’s not like I’m…Plankton, Spongebob’s arch-enemy.”
A glimmer of comprehension lights up the Intelligence Detective’s eyes.

Intelligence Detective neutralized! Begin vigilant silence now!

The Intelligence Detective will swear your son is a brainiac, and he’ll tell other people, and it will require a year of eating paste to overcome that impression.

Aren’t there hundreds of opportunities where your kid can easily say this?

Job Interview: “My last boss complained because I kept licking all the printer paper, but it’s not like I’m Idi Amin or something…”
First Date: “My last girlfriend made me out to be such a bad guy because I accidentally broke into her email all the time, and after we broke up I was reading her email, and she made me sound like Idi Amin or something…”

Tip #2:

Teach your kid impressive, but efficient vocabulary words.  It does no good for Tyler to learn a word like fusuma because he will only encounter a Japanese sliding door once every five years.  You don’t have any Japanese friends.  Forget it!

But if your kid learns the word bailiwick, meaning a person’s area of skill, knowledge, authority, or work, he can use it all the time.

“No, I didn’t bring the ball.  It wasn’t my bailiwick.”
“My arm is stuck in the soda machine, whose bailwick is it to get me out?”

Tyler’s use of bailiwick will be met with looks of confusion, and he can say, “You know bailwick?  A person’s area of skill, knowledge, authority, or work?  Hmm…I guess vocabulary isn’t your bailiwick.  (Snobbish laughter)  Get it?  Area of skill?  A bit of irony for you, old sport.  Do you want me to explain what irony means? (More snobbish laughter)”

I admit, the snobbish laughter is not going to make him well-liked, but neither is stupidity.

Intelligence Detective neutralized!  Begin vigilant silence now!

Tips 3, 4, and 5 next week!  Practice tips 1 and 2 this week and let me know your results in the Comments section.

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Posted in: Advice, Kids