The Secret My Parents Kept by Conlee Ricketts

schoolMy parents kept a secret from me. They made a choice to not tell me something. It slipped out recently while I was chatting with my 80+ year old Dad about my childhood. The secret? The fact that I was smart. Apparently, I have a high I.Q. Supposedly it rivals my extremely smart brother’s I.Q. Wow. I never knew.

I was my mother’s princess. A princess whose value was determined by my obedience and my beauty—which was pretty darn awkward during those years when I was all lips, knees, eyebrows, and elbows—pretty much gangly-unattractive. It was a difficult time during middle school when my mother’s praise didn’t match the ridicule and put downs I got at school—they outnumbered my mother’s solitary voice, so having nothing else to base my self-worth on—like intelligence for instance—I kind of withdrew for a few years, staying home “sick” a lot.

I asked my dad why they never told me and he confided that they were worried I might overshadow my brother. Now, my brother is crazy-wicked-smart in my mind, so I’m not too sure what harm my parents thought this would cause letting me know the big secret about my intelligence, but regardless it caused some harm—but not to my brother.

Am I mad at my parents? Not at all; that’s not my style. It just means that I had to find a way to re-program 40+ years of negative self-talk. Just my kind of challenge.

I realize there has been a lot printed these days about the dangers of telling your child they are “smart.” Just Google “dangers of telling your kid they’re smart” and you will find plenty. I agree with some of what has been written by Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck, but only if you are using “smart” as the single solitary praise you give your child—ever. Yes, it is important to encourage a “growth mindset” over a “fixed mindset,” but to not tell them at all? That’s dangerous too, trust me I know. In my case the not knowing I was “smart” created a different fixed mindset—the one that thought being in the top 10% of my graduating class was based on luck or clerical error, the one that thought getting a degree with 75 hours of math courses was a fluke simply because I wanted to teach math so bad, the one that didn’t try certain things because I didn’t feel smart enough, so my recommendation is to practice the middle road. Find as many different ways to encourage and compliment your kids as possible, just be genuine and honest.

There are many options of things to say to highlight the qualities of a child you want to encourage, but sometimes my daughter says something or makes some connection that has eluded me and I can’t help saying, “Oh my gosh, you are so smart! I didn’t see that before!” and I think that’s okay, but there are other things I say too and this list is growing, so please feel free to add more.

“You are so determined! I admire that.”

“You’re so wise. That is a great way to look at that disappointment.”

“You have worked so hard on this! You inspire me.”

“The effort you put into learning this is awesome.”

“You’re so curious! If I had been like that imagine me today!”

“I love how you figured all that out on your own. Tell me about it.”

“I like that decision. You know how to make some really good decisions.”

“You really stuck with that until you got it. Way to go.”

“This is something you can really be proud of no matter what happens at school/in class/at the contest.”

“I love watching you practice. I’m envious of how fast you learn those notes.”

“You know what? I don’t really care what grade you get on this project. It was just fun for me to watch how you and your brain figured it all out and fit it all together. Bravo!”

“I know this didn’t work out as easily and quickly as you’re used to but the way you stuck with it is so admirable and your determination is amazing.”

“I never get tired of watching you work; your determination and creativity is awesome.”

The question I find myself asking most often is “How did you figure that out?” I love it when she explains her thought processes to me. It actually teaches me a lot about the way she thinks compared to the way I think and it’s fascinating to find all the different ways to view the same activity.

Please help me add to this list; it really is a win/win!

  1. 2 Responses to “The Secret My Parents Kept by Conlee Ricketts”

  2. When I was in High School, I had a teacher that said, ” I like the way your mind works.” That’s all. No other compliment, nothing. But that statement stuck with me and meant the world to me. To this day, if pressed, I will say my best trait is how my mind works. Not all of that viewpoint came from that teacher, of course, but her having said it allowed me to say it out loud about myself. It really is important what we say to kids. They absorb it all.

    By Paul on Feb 17, 2014

  3. I tell my son he has an incredible brain and then give him a specific example. I also tell him that his tenaciousness DOES eventually pay off (although it can be a PIA at times, lol!). And I don’t give a hoot about grades. I applaud the effort and determination he puts into something, even if he gets a poor grade. And I let him know that the effort and determination are what count the most!

    By Cara Meyers on Mar 14, 2014