“I don’t want to be smart!”
My six year old son yelled this at me last night, and it confused me. He is a smart little boy. He always has been. He loved playing math games as a toddler and reading books is one of his favorite hobbies. Now that he is in first grade his whole mindset has changed. He doesn’t want to be smart.
I didn’t understand. This was something that he was always proud of. He would so something we would consider brilliant.. just normal kid stuff, but we’re his family so everything he did was brilliant and we would commend him on being “so smart”. When he started kindergarten he was having a lot of trouble sitting down and doing his work. It was understandable. He was a 5 year old boy. Sitting was not his specialty.
Now that he is in first grade I talked to him about how this was the year that actual grades started and how his work was important. He always loved coming to work with me so I told him that it was “job” to go to school and do his work. I let him know that he was a smart little boy so if he just did the work his grades would be just fine and he didn’t have to worry about that.. just do the work. I wasn’t trying to put the emphasis on the grades. I was trying to help him understand that it was his “trying” that mattered.
Two weeks before he started first grade his father died. Because of this my sweet little boy has a lot of anger and anxiety. This is completely normal.. but very disruptive. We have decided to turn off all electronics in the house because of this. I only use my phone and computer when he is at school.. or for “important” things (like doctor’s appointments, checking in with teachers or activities.. etc.) This has been an extremely emotional time and we are both looking for as much quality time together, even if it’s just snuggling on the couch reading books, as we can.
At school he has been having some outbursts. He has been boycotting his classwork, and even a test. He has been getting into fights with kids who are “being mean to him”. I know these kids.. they’re not being mean, but he is on high alert because of his high stress and everything is upsetting him.
About a week ago he asked if he could home school. I asked him if he understood what that meant. He said, “yeah.. then I could just stay home all day with you”. I explained that he would still have to do all of the work, but that he wouldn’t have any of his friends there to play with at all.. and that.. if I am honest, I am not the most patient at teaching things like maths… I don’t even understand half his homework already. He agreed home school was not for us.
He had a few good days after that conversation and I was hoping that we had turned a corner. Then yesterday he was held back in the classroom at the end of the day so the guidance councilor could speak with me. She told me that he had thrown papers at a friend and his teacher.. squealed.. and hid under his desk. I brought him home and asked him about what had transpired.. there was some story about the other kid throwing it first.. it not being his fault.. the usual. He told me that he tried to do his breathing but he was just so mad.
Then he told me, “I wish I wasn’t smart”. I was completely taken aback. I had no idea what he was talking about. He said that he was so tired and so angry all the time. That he didn’t want to do any of his work because of it. That if he wasn’t smart that no one would care if he did his work or not and they would just leave him alone.
I’m not going to lie.. that confused me. I couldn’t see where he got this or why he felt this way. I knew that I had said that he just had to do his work and because he was smart the grades would follow.. but that didn’t mean that he didn’t have to do the work if he wasn’t smart.. but then I thought about my own childhood. My brother was always “the smart one”. He was in all the extra special classed for “smart” kids, and I always had anything better to do than my homework. So I didn’t, and my dad wasn’t great at checking on me. When the teachers would say to me, “you’re so smart if you just do the work….” I would shut down. I’m not smart. My brother is smart.. you’re just projecting. I didn’t want to be smart.. because I didn’t want to do the work.
We always get the threat from our parents that someday we are going to have kids “just like you”, and then we do. And then we say the same things to our kids that was said to us. So from now on, I’m not going to tell my son how smart he is.. I’m going to tell him how proud I am for his effort. Because let’s be honest.. ability is nothing without fortitude. My son is smart, but he doesn’t know everything. Two weeks before school started he lost his father and his whole understanding of life was changed. I can’t expect him to comprehend everything, but I can encourage him to try.